Rebiya Kadeer is a poorly-educated grandmother, wealthy philanthropist and businesswoman who is has become the leader of Uighur movment. She is barely five feet tall and gave birth to 11 children. Some Uighurs regard her as the “mother all Uighurs.” Mentioning her name can invite the same crackdown that possessing a picture of the Dalai Lama can in Tibet.

Kadeer hopes to bring the same kind of international attention to Uighur issues that the Dalai Lama brought to Tibet and Aug San Suu Kyi brought to Burma. “Of course I want to follow the path of the Dalai Lama’s” she told the Times of London. “I will travel across the world telling the truth about the Chinese government and bring my homeland freedom. But I am different from the Dalai Lama in ths way — I won’t wait 50 years.”

Kadeer is head of the World Uighur Congress and Washington-based Uighur American Association. Beijing has described her as an “ironclad separatist colluding with terrorists and Islamic extremists.” She has been accused with having ties with the terrorist group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

Kadeer’s Life

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Kadeer began as a laundress and rose to became one of the richest women in China through property dealings, a steel trading company and a department store. In the 1980s and 90s she drove around in an Audi and used three villas and was cited by Forbes as one of the 20 most successful tycoons in China. She met with business leaders such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. The department store she founded now sits monumentally in central in Urumqi.

For a while Kadeer was regarded as the richest woman in Xinjiang. She founded the Thousand Mother’s Movement to promote job training for Uighur women and helped orphans and underprivileged children.

As a wealthy Uighur Kadeer was courted and honored by Beijing and placed on the national advisory body, the Chinese Peoples Political Consultive Conference. After a massacre of Uighurs in 1997 she became increasingly critical of the Chinese government and used her position to air Uighur grievances. Those efforts resulted in threats against her businesses. After seeking help from the United States she was arrested.

Kadeer’s in Prison

In 1997 Kadeer was sentenced to eight years in prison for "giving information to separatist outside the borders" and “revealing state intelligence” for sending clipping from a local newspaper to her husband in the United States and Uighurs in neighboring countries and the United States. She was arrested in 1999 while on her way to a meeting with U.S. Congressmen and was sentenced in a closed trial. Her son and secretary were sentenced to jail terms of two and three years respectively.

Kadeer spent five years in prison and work camps where she said she was routinely threatened with death and repeatedly forced to confess that Xinjiang was the “property” of China. She wrote in the Times of London, “While in prison, I was subjected to extended periods of solitary confinement and medical neglect. But far more horrifying were the times I was forced to witness torture of my fellow prisoners.” During her time in prison she told the Washington Post she missed here children so much she hallucinated about them and was often woken up by the sounds of screams from interrogation sessions.

Kadeer was released from prison in March 2005 after serving 5½ years. After her release she moved to the Washington D.C. area with her children. She was released as part of deal in which the United States promised not purse of resolution criticizing China’s human rights record.

Two of her sons, Alim and Ablikim Abdureyim are currently serving lengthy prison terms in Urumqi prisons. There are reports they have been tortured and denied treatments for serious medical conditions.

Kadeer’s Politics

After her release Kadeer has continued to speak out for Uighur right. She took the Uighur cause to a number of countries and called for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics. For their part the Chinese government is said to be plotting to tear down here financial empire.

Kadeer is not decided on whether Xinjiang should seek full independence or more autonomy within China. She has said that Chinese policy in Xinjiang goes beyond assimilation and is a form of genocide and claims that perhaps as many as 10,000 Uighurs were killed in the period of riots in Xinjiang in July 2009.

Kadeer wrote in the Times of London,”I am absolutely opposed to all forms of violence, and believe it is only through dialogue and attempts at mutual understanding that we may achieve peace.”

She told National Geographic, “The Chinese authorities are fearful of me because of what they have been doing to the Uygur people...I keep advocating for my people, for the self-determination of Uygurs...At the moment I’m trying to invite the Chinese authorities to the dialogue peacefully.” The Chinese government’s effort to demonize her has helped raised he stature abroad and helped bring sympathizers to the Uighurs cause as the Dalai Lama has done for Tibetans.

When asked how local Uyghur intellectuals view Rebiya Kadeer, Heyrat Niyaz, an Uyghur journalist and blogger, told Hong Kong newsweekly Yazhou Zhoukan: “They're not interested. Rebiya basically has no ideas.”

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Rebiya Kadeer on Uighur Human Rights

Rebiya Kadeer wrote in the Christian Science Monitor: “A genuine new approach to resolving the numerous economic, social, and political issues in East Turkestan involves meaningful dialogue and consultation with the Uighur people. This means all Uighurs in exile and in East Turkestan, and conducted in an open atmosphere of equality without the fear of imprisonment.” [Source: Rebiya Kadeer, Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 2010]

“All Uighurs should be allowed to attend a mosque without fear of suspicion, and imams should be allowed to speak freely. The Chinese government should stop imprisoning peaceful dissenters and make them partners in a robust dialogue on the development of the region. Uighurs will welcome these policies, and they will help to reduce tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese.”

“If the Chinese government wants to make an immediate impact and demonstrate a sincere change in approach to build trust among the Uighur people, it could do no better than to release all those Uighurs bloggers and web administrators it detained in the wake of the unrest.Uighur participation and freedom of speech are fundamental, overarching conditions in achieving a resolution to the East Turkestan issue. Without it the cycle of old policies of repression repackaged as new policies of repression will continue unabated.”

Kadeer and International Relations

Beijing has issued complaints about Kadeer to governments in the United States, Japan and Australia.

The Chinese government put a lot of pressure on Australia when a film about Kadeer was screened at the Melbourne Film Festival in August 2009. Chinese directors pulled their films from the festival, hackers attack the festival’s website, inserting Chinese flags, and Beijing sharply condemned the festival for showing it. In Beijing, the Australian ambassador was summoned to lodge a formal protest on the issue.

Kadeer was invited to the White House along with four Chinese dissidents several days before the Olympics.

Image Sources: Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2011

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