Leading Uyghur advocate supports terror probe

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NEWS COMMENTARY: Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress and winner of the 2004 Rafto Prize in Norway, says she “felt terrible” after hearing that a fellow Uyghur had been arrested on terrorism charges in Norway last week. She condemns terrorism, fears the suspect has severely damaged the Uyghurs’ struggle for freedom and human rights, and she fully supports the Norwegian authorities’ “efforts to investigate suspected terrorist activity.”

TOKYO - JULY 29:  Rebiya Kadeer, president of World Uyghur Congress speaks at the press conference at Japan National Press Center on July 29, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. Kadeer was accused by Chinese government of helping to intice the riots in Uighur.  (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

Kadeer, writing in a commentary sent to Views and News from Norway and other media in Norway, fears China will exploit the situation and use the arrest to “intensify the persecution of Uyghurs.”

Even though she maintains that “one alleged Uyghur terrorist by no means represents the entire Uyghur nation,” she worries that Uyghurs now will pay an “immeasurable” price “for the act of one suspected terrorist.”

Here follows her reaction to last Thursday’s arrests of three suspected terrorists in Oslo and Duisberg, Germany:

Uyghur terror and Norway
In the fall of 2004, when I was still languishing in a dark prison cell for opposing China’s six-decade long suppression of Uyghurs, Norway’s Rafto Foundation presented my family its prestigious Rafto Prize in Washington, DC in recognition of the plight of the Uyghur people and my peaceful advocacy. The Prize, coupled with the international pressure from Western governments, including Norway and the U.S. and the international human rights organizations, secured my release in March 2005. Upon my release to the U.S., the first country I wanted to visit was Norway because I really wanted to thank the Rafto Foundation for supporting the long-suffering Uyghurs. I also wanted to thank the government of Norway for accepting Uyghur refugees and granting them asylum.

TOKYO - JULY 29:  Rebiya Kadeer, president of World Uyghur Congress speaks at the press conference at Japan National Press Center on July 29, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. Kadeer was accused by Chinese government of helping to intice the riots in Uighur.  (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

I visited Norway for the first time in October 2005. I was so pleased to see the very people who gave me the Rafto Prize without ever meeting me. Their love of oppressed peoples and their passion for human rights moved me into tears. I immediately fell in love with Norway and her freedom-loving people. The last time I visited Norway was just three months ago to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum. There I met Nobel Peace Prize laureates and prisoners of conscience as well as a selection of authors, together with business, political and cultural leaders from both Norway and internationally. Norway always has a special place in my heart. It is a country of peace, freedom, and refuge. It is a country many Uyghur refugees who escaped Chinese oppression call home.

However, I was brutally awakened last Thursday by the news that an Al-Qaeda linked Uyghur terror suspect who was planning a bomb attack with another Uzbek and Iraqi was arrested in Norway. This piece of news sent immediate shockwaves around the world. Like my fellow Uyghurs across the world, I could not believe the news. I asked how this could be possible – how a Uyghur who was granted asylum and citizenship in Norway could be linked to Al-Qaeda and target Norway. This is completely against Uyghurs’ cultural traditions, which value hospitality and kindness. What kind of Uyghur is he? I even had second thoughts about whether he was Uyghur or not. When I later learned that his Uyghur identity had been confirmed, I felt terrible. I still have a hard time believing that he is indeed Uyghur.

For the Uyghur people, who have been persecuted for more than half a century under China’s communist rule, this is probably the worst news we have ever heard. Since the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, the Chinese government hijacked the purpose of the global war on terror and began to create artificial links between certain murky Uyghur groups and Al-Qaeda. China claimed itself a “victim of terrorism” and aggressively portrayed Uyghurs’ legitimate grievances against its brutal rule as “terrorism.” China presented the Uyghur people’s struggle as an Islamic threat not only to China but to the West as well. However, China had always failed to provide substantive evidence for this.

Thanks to Rashidin Muhammed, the Uyghur terror suspect in Norway, now China can proudly say, “We told you so.” China will certainly use his case as an opportunity to intensify the persecution of Uyghurs and to prove to the world that the Uyghur struggle is closely linked to international terrorism. As a result, many Uyghurs will suffer and many people in the West will have second thoughts about supporting the Uyghur people’s peaceful and legitimate struggle, believing it is being tainted with the brush of Al-Qaeda. What a price we Uyghurs have to pay as a people and nation for the act of one suspected terrorist. It will surely be immeasurable.

Since 9/11, China’s hardline repressive policies have played the most important role in the radicalization of few young Uyghurs.  In fact, Western analysts warned long ago that China’s zero tolerance of any kind of Uyghur dissent would eventually make some Uyghurs “sitting targets for potential fundamentalists,” which will later add “legitimacy to Beijing’s cause and risk the ire of Western governments, now terrified of any group linked to Islamic terrorism.”[1] The case of Rashidin perfectly illustrates this point.

We Uyghurs are a hospitable and peace-loving people. In spite of the fact that one Uyghur terror suspect shattered the confidence of many governments and peoples in the West toward the Uyghur people and our peaceful struggle for freedom, human rights and democracy, we will continue to peacefully struggle. One alleged Uyghur terrorist by no means represents the entire Uyghur nation. The vast majority of Uyghur people are peaceful. In fact, we are victims of six decades of China’s state terrorism. Therefore, we do not believe that terrorism or violence are a means to end our suffering, or that they will create peaceful conditions for the resolution of our legitimate grievances.

In fact, I am personally glad that Rashidin Muhammed and the other two terror suspects were arrested before they could commit a terrorist act. I condemn any and all violence and fully support the Norwegian government’s efforts to investigate suspected terrorist activity and to bring the perpetrators to justice.  If Rashidin is found guilty of such activity, then he should be punished. Norway is the second homeland of many Uyghur refugees. Norway gave them protection and freedom. They are eternally indebted to the generosity of the Norwegian government and hospitality of the Norwegian people. Unlike Rashidin, they are more than grateful to Norway. Therefore, we stand side by side with the freedom-loving people and government of Norway in condemning terrorism and the planned terrorist activity of these three terror suspects, including one Uyghur.

At the same time, I respectfully ask the international community, including the Norwegian government, to refrain from using the possible terrorist activity of this single Uyghur to ascertain or judge the aspirations or characters of the broader Uyghur population or any other Uyghur individuals.  The Chinese government has consistently labeled the broader Uyghur population as terrorist, and if history is any guide, Chinese officials will use Norway’s arrest and prosecution of a Uyghur to try to bolster their extremely flawed and biased characterization of Uyghur people as terrorists and bolster their justification for the persecution of the Uyghur people as part and parcel of the global war on terror. The international community should refrain from accepting China’s ill-intentioned claims and prevent China’s intensified persecution of Uyghur people in the wake of the Rashidin case.

Rebiya Kadeer
Uyghur Democracy Leader and 2004 Rafto Prize Laureate


[1] Ruth Ingram, Burying Seeds for Violence – Xinjiang, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Analyst, Nov. 21, 2001. Found at www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/437