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China's Other Genocide: the 'Mother of the Uyghurs' Speaks Out

June 26, 2009

By Richard Gale and Gary Null,
June 24, 2009

Although we often hear of the plight of the Tibetans and the efforts of the
Dalai Lama to address the human rights conditions in Tibet, the similar
plight of another major ethnic group -- the Uyghurs and other indigenous
minorities in the Xinjiang province in northwestern China -- has gone almost
completely unnoticed.

While repression, imprisonment, and executions have lessened greatly in
Tibet, this has not been the case for the Uyghurs, and persecution has
actually increased dramatically since 9/11 and Bush's war on terror.

With Bush's attempt to win China's support for his al-Qaida hunting venture,
China redefined the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), at the time an
organization with no confirmed terrorist acts in China, as a terrorist
organization. Shortly thereafter, the United States included the ETIM on its
terrorist organization list, and exiled Uyghurs captured in Afghanistan have
been held at Guantanamo without charges.

But more important has been the opportunities America's war on terror
offered the Chinese government's to repress the Xinjiang's Muslim minorities
without American and European intrusion.Yet one Uyghur voice is being heard
beyond the borders of Xinjiang: Rebiya Kadeer, affectionately known as the
"Mother of the Uygurs." Besides having taken on the cause of Xinjiang's
minority populations, Rebiya also holds the honor of being one of China's
"Public Enemies Number One."

After growing up in poverty following Mao Zedong's People's Liberation
Army's takeover of her land, she worked her way from a simple laundry
person, hand-washing the clothes of oil refinery workers, to becoming the
wealthiest woman in China. In fact, she became the seventh-wealthiest person
in China and eventually a high official of the National People's Congress.

On the day she was to meet with American representatives on human rights
issues, she was arrested and spent the next six years in horrid prison
conditions as a political prisoner, two of those years in solitary

She has been considered for the Nobel Peace Prize a couple of times, but
Chinese lobbying and trade relations threats to the Norwegian government
have prevented her from receiving this prestigious award. She lives in exile
in the United States and is the president of the World Uyghur Congress and
the Uyghur-American Association.

She also just released her autobiography, Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic
Struggle for Peace With China, with an Intro by the Dalai Lama. It's an
extraordinary account of a courageous woman trying to live by the highest
human values in one of the worst regimes of human rights violations today.

On June 1, Rebiya Kadeer gave a rare interview on WPFW Pacifica radio in
Washington.The Chinese have stuck with the story that Tibet was always a
part of China, which legitimized their entry into Tibet in the late 1940s;
the Chinese hold the same story of East Turkestan or Xinjiang Autonomous
Region, where many non-Chinese peoples, most of who are of Turkic and
Central Asian origin, including the Uyghurs, live.

WPFW: What was the national status at the time of Mao's communist
revolution, and how did the lands of the Uyghur come to be part of Communist

Rebiya Kadeer: Historically, both Tibet and East Turkestan were not part of
China but they were independent. The Chinese government knows this very
well. As you know, today Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are
independent states in Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet empire.
We also belong to Central Asia and not the Eastern part of Asia.

Historically, we are part of these other countries. They are called Western
Turkistan, and we are called Eastern Turkestan; but now Western Turkistan is
free and independent, whereas we are still under Chinese communist rule.

WPFW: We give rather mixed messages to the world community when it comes to
human rights. On the one hand we say we support human rights, and yet we
look the other way when China arrested millions of Falun Gong and used their
body parts for organ transplants. Over 100,000 are known to have had their
organs removed. We haven't opened our mouths about that. We haven't opened
our mouths about Tibet. We haven't opened our mouths about slave labor.

In fact, because China gives us over $1 billion a day and holds about $1.5
trillion of our debt in the form of T-bills, IOUs, we won't say anything
even with this new administration that promises change. It's change is

Do you see any possibility of approaching the president of the United
States, knowing how utterly compromised almost every member of our Congress
is, and our entire political community, to see if you couldn't make your
cause something that he may have enough courage to at least open his voice
to address it slightly?

RK: I'm confident that the new administration, and all future
administrations, will definitely focus on the human rights of Uyghurs,
Tibetans and all the oppressed peoples around the world. And I understand
that the current economic situation is very bad, and in light of that
reality, it's hard to pressure China in terms of human rights. But I do
believe things will eventually change.

WPFW: Let's speak about the distinct cultural features of the Uyghurs that
are being extinguished since your land was seized by the Chinese in 1955.
The Uyghur and other related tribal groups are predominantly followers of
Islam. Sharing much with Mongolia, there is also a rich shamanic influence,
as well. Although you are a Muslim, you mention in your book that reciting a
shamanic song or prayer repeatedly while in solitary confinement for two
years helped you. When we look at three of the five poisons that China
repeatedly refers to, they have strong religious components: the Buddhism of
Tibet, the Islam and indigenous religion of the Uyghur's and the Falun Gong.
The other two are Taiwan and the pro-democracy movement. Why do you believe
China views religion or spirituality as such a threat to its government and
its future goals?

RK: As you know, the Chinese communist government is an atheistic
government, and it denounces all religions and persecutes religious
believers. For the Chinese authorities, any religion, whether that's Islam,
Christianity, Buddhism or any other religion, is a threat to it. It is an
unjustified rule, because the government is attempting to use communism to
replace all these world religions and is using communism to brainwash the
masses into absolute obedience to its rule. That's why the government is so
afraid of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam and other religious beliefs,
because the government knows that once other people follow a religion, other
people will not follow the lies of the Chinese communist government.

And what are Uyghurs, Tibetans or Falun Gong or the Taiwanese or all other
peoples? They all have their own unique belief systems. They want to follow
their religious traditions and beliefs, and because of that they also demand
religious freedom. That's what terrifies the Chinese authorities, because
once people begin to demand religious freedom, then they will begin to
demand other freedoms as well.

WPFW: Throughout the period of your life while you were a remarkably
successful businesswoman, you continued to support and fund equal, social
and political rights in Xinjiang. Moreover, your husband was once imprisoned
for eight years as a political dissident before the two of you met. Why do
you feel the Communist Party invited you to be a leading member in the
government's Congress Party? And what is your view now about the way the
Chinese Congress operates in suppressing non-Han Chinese groups such as the
Uyghurs or the Tibetans?

RK: First of all, after China's notorious Cultural Revolution, the Chinese
authorities decided to allow a few members of the Uyghurs and other minority
groups to have the opportunity to become wealthy. I used that opportunity to
do business and to make money. Other people were still very afraid of the
Chinese government, believing that if they started doing business or
carrying out other activities the government would persecute them.

As a result, I became rich in a very short period of time, and I had this
tremendous respect from the Uyghur people as well. The reason why the
Chinese picked me and gave me all these official titles is because the
authorities have a history of using people with great influence within
particular communities, such as me. So by selecting me as an official to
portray to other countries' officials, the Chinese government was showing
they were helping the Uyghur people by using me as an example.

But in fact that's not the case, and the Uyghur people suffer so much under
Chinese rule. They just used me as a smokescreen to hide their brutality in
our homeland. The Chinese government's intention was that once I had this
official title I would praise the Chinese government's Sunshine Rule in our

Whenever foreign officials and delegations visited, I would tell them how
happy we are under Chinese rule and how we are enjoying all the rights that
we're supposed to enjoy. I just became an official mouthpiece and puppet for
the Chinese regime. The Chinese authorities, of course, need Uyghurs like
that to say wonderful things about the Communist Party's rule. And probably
1 percent of the Uyghurs actually serve the Chinese Communist Party.

That's what the Chinese authorities thought I would do for them, but at the
end of the day I didn't tiptoe their official lines. In the past, the
Chinese authorities always picked Uyghur puppets to represent the weaker
people in the interest of the Chinese government, and the authorities now
know it from their experience that the Uyghurs handpicked by the Beijing
dictators are not loved by the Uyghurs.

WPFW: Please share the circumstances that led to your arrest while serving
as a member of the Chinese Congress. You were the wealthiest woman in China.
Did that help you in any way or did it hurt you? Were you able to get good
lawyers or not? Then speak about some of the human rights violations you
personally witnessed in prison, either to yourself or to others.

RK: First of all, once I became wealthy, I used my wealth to support and
help the Uyghur people within the Chinese laws. At the time, I realized the
repression of the Uyghur people: the constant crackdowns, the arrests,
executions of the Uyghurs, and the Chinese government violating the autonomy
laws given to us in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

I saw the suffering of our people, but I thought that if I could peacefully
bring these issues to the attention of the top leaders in China that they
would address them. So I was able to document the situation of the Uyghurs
and even produce a report that I submitted to Chinese officials hoping that
they would give attention to the issues and then change the situation.

The Chinese government always propagates that stability and the unity of
nationality are priorities. I believed that was their top concern, and then
I hoped by addressing the problems there would be true civility and the
unity of nationalities in China. I [eventually] realized that the Chinese
Communist Party was not interested in addressing the suffering and the
persecution of the Uyghur people at all.

The so-called stability and unity of nationalities were all just lies and
used by the authorities to crackdown on the Uyghurs. Then, I thought the
best way to let the world know about the human-rights violations was to
inform foreign officials, especially to the U.S., because the U.S. has
always been very concerned with the human rights situation in China.

The Uyghur people always have this strong faith in the United States
government, believing that it would care about their human-rights situation,
their suffering and it will give them aid. So while I was on my way to meet
a member of a U.S. congressional delegation, I was arrested by the Chinese
authorities and later sentenced to eight years for revealing so-called state

Actually I didn't possess any kind of state secrets. I only sent some
newspaper clippings to my husband. The newspapers were already publicly
available and published. So I was sentenced to eight years in prison, and
the first two years I was solitarily confined. During my six years of
incarceration, I was prohibited to read, write, watch anything, listen to
anything and even to look at other inmates. All I needed to do was just sit
there grabbing my knees and only do the things I was asked or ordered to do.

The only time I wrote something was when I was ordered to sign something.
Once, two Uyghur women were stripped naked in front of me by two prison
guards. Then they just beat them up very badly, and they forced them to eat
poker cards. Then they asked me, "Why don't you save them. Aren't you
supposed to help your people?"

Another time, they tortured two young men in front of me and said the same
things. "Why don't you save them.?" That's how they psychologically tortured
me, and they also punished other inmates just for looking at me. Whenever I
was dragged in and out of my cell, outside or to some other place, the
inmates were supposed to look in a different direction and not at me.
Whoever looked at me was punished.

Daily the Uyghur political prisoners are required to recite 58 times that
they are criminals, and they also have to recite 58 times the accusations
brought upon them by the Chinese authorities. At the same time, they have to
praise the Chinese Communist Party for its rule over our homeland. Then they
are allowed to eat. So if you forget one thing to say, or if you stutter,
then you can't eat that morning or afternoon.

Any religious person who acknowledges God or says the word "god" is severely
punished. When the person denounces God, they can eat. I actually saw one
18-year-old Uyghur female prisoner saying, "I believe in God." They chained
both her hands and her feet together for two weeks.

So these are some of the tortures that I witnessed in prison, and there are
many other ways the authorities torture political prisoners of course.

WPFW: Now with the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, speak about the
event at Ghuljar in 1997. I recall you were arrested at least twice trying
to investigate what actually happened there. Although the demonstration did
not result in as large a massacre as at Tiananmen Square, the aftermath of
gathering Uyghurs, mass executions and imprisonments were still large. Yet
this event was virtually nonexistent in the American media, and most people
have never heard of it. So briefly, what happened there and what now is
considered the actual cost of human life that resulted from it?

RK: Yes. One thing I would like to say before I touch upon the Ghuljar
massacre is, as soon as the Chinese authorities cracked down using tanks and
killed so many Chinese students at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, a lot
of Uyghur students took to the streets in our homeland. They also donated
money to help those who were injured or killed. But the Chinese authorities,
of course, accused these Uyghurs of separatism. But they only tried to help
the Chinese students who were injured.

During the Ghuljar massacre, the Uyghurs took to the streets peacefully to
demand their rights and freedoms. In order to show they were peaceful, they
all raised their hands and put their hands on their necks. But the Chinese
authorities instead of addressing their legitimate concerns sent in fully
armed paramilitary police and also deployed so-called People's Liberation
Army troops from other provinces to crackdown upon the peaceful protest.

In fact, during the crackdown the number of arrested and executed Uyghurs
was actually more than the ones who took to the streets for the protest.
When the Chinese soldiers opened fire, they killed not only the protestors,
but also women and children who were just watching the protest. Many of them
were later taken into a huge stadium and were stripped almost naked. Then
they used a water hose and covered them from head to toe with water.

Now this was on Feb. 5 in Turkestan. It was almost the coldest day of that
entire winter. Many of the Uyghur police who were present couldn't take this
and were also taken away by military police. Later, the Chinese World
Journal reported on this massacre. It said some 8,000 Uyghurs disappeared
after it. But we're not sure where those 8,000 Uyghurs disappeared to.

WPFW: Well, similar to Tibet, one Chinese strategy for exterminating non-Han
Chinese, such as the Uyghur and other traditional groups, is by large
numbers of Han Chinese immigrating into their homelands so that the Chinese
become the majority population. The most recent figures we were able to find
show that the Han Chinese now outnumber the Uyghurs overall. So explain to
us how this strategy is a slow means to wipeout Uyghurs and other groups,
and then, what are some of the ways the Chinese are trying to eradicate
them? For example, arbitrary detention, depriving employment, housing and
health care, the forbidding of religious observation, the removal of the
Uyghur language from the educational system, and forcing Uyghur orphans to
take on Chinese names and identity. Take it from there.

RK: I am very pleased that you know so much about the situation of the
Uyghur people, and the strategies the Chinese government are using to
eradicate the Uyghurs. Today of course the Chinese government is doing
anything in its power to destroy us as a people, by attacking our culture,
by also attacking our unique ethnic identity.

For example, today the Chinese authorities are aggressively demolishing the
city of Kashgar. Kashgar is the cradle of Uyghur civilization that has been
in existence for thousands of years. The Uyghurs established kingdoms there
in the past called Kashgarkhan, also Uyghur kings and queens and their
courts were established in Kashgar, and just as late as the early 20th
century the British government had a consulate there.

But now the Chinese government is destroying everything -- all the buildings
built by the Uyghurs several hundred years ago. By demolishing them, the
Chinese authorities are erasing Uyghur culture and our history at this very
moment. And in order to aggressively pursue this kind of cultural
assimilation of the Uyghur people, not only in Kashgar, for the past several
decades they are destroying everything that represents the Uyghurs in the
city of Turpan. It had been a center of Uyghur Buddhism in the fifth to late
sixth centuries.

In other Uyghur towns and cities, they're building these Chinese pagodas and
they are saying these pagodas existed several thousand years ago. They claim
these are actual Chinese pagoda sites in order to justify that our region
was part of China. By outnumbering us, they are basically saying it's their
land. That it has always been their land, and we came from somewhere else.

So the Chinese government is completely changing the demography of the
region, and also the landscape by remaking history, by building things that
never existed, and by destroying the ones that actually did exist. They are
arresting, imprisoning and executing those Uyghurs who demand to preserve
their unique ethnic identity under all kinds of charges by conveniently
labeling them as separatists, radicals and even terrorists in a lot of

The Chinese government's intent is to wipeout the Uyghur culture before the
international community knows the existence of such people and our
predicament. By transferring millions of Chinese into our homeland, by
becoming the majority, the authorities take away our houses and properties
and freely distribute them to the incoming Chinese immigrants. The Chinese
authorities also provide all the jobs, all the housing, everything to the
Chinese immigrants. By giving them opportunities and making them happy to
live in our homeland, they are stripping the Uyghur people naked.

The Uyghurs who want to stay in their homeland want to peacefully coexist
with the incoming Chinese people, but the government does not give that kind
of opportunity to them. When the Uyghurs demand their legitimate rights,
they're immediately arrested. And so, if Uyghurs want to leave our homeland
to other parts, or other countries, the Chinese authorities do not allow
them to leave because they cannot get their passports.

Actually, all of their passports have been universally confiscated by the
authorities. In addition to that, the Chinese government just initiated
another policy that forcefully removes young, unmarried Uyghur women from 14
to 25 years old to eastern parts of China to work virtually as slaves and
cheap labor in Chinese factories.

The Chinese authorities are also using nationalism to infuriate the Chinese
to create this kind of hatred between the Chinese immigrants and the local
Uyghurs, stating that these Uyghurs are the troublemakers. They create
instability. They create problems for China, and they should be eliminated
as a people.

So when you visit Chinese Web sites, you'd be shocked to learn what they
write about Uyghurs. It's so easy for them to say just kill them. Wipe them
all out. Genocide those people because they are troublemakers. These people
are trying to break apart this great country called China.

WPFW: How large in landmass and miles compared to the United States is the
Uyghur territory, and how many people live there or have lived there?

RK: The size of East Turkestan in the metric system is 1.6 million square

WPFW: That's roughly the size of Alaska.That's very large. How many people?

RK: The Chinese statistics have put the number of Uyghurs around 9.3
million. And the total population is around 20 million-ish.

WPFW: I would also speculate that the Chinese have used nuclear bomb testing
as a means to further eradicate the Uyghurs. If you look into Lop Noor in
Xinjiang, it was the site for China's first nuclear bomb test, and there
have been many since -- about 45 -- and the 1976 nuclear test was 320 times
more powerful than the bomb on Hiroshima. The locals were not told to
evacuate. The Han Chinese were protected, but the non-Han Chinese who
settled there have been routinely affected. A Japanese scientist now
estimates that about 200,000 Uyghurs have died from cancer and leukemia in
the area due to radiation exposure. And another source states that the
number of malformed fetuses are in the tens of thousands. Do you believe
that the nuclear testing in this region is being intentionally designed to
further challenge or extinguish the Uyghur people?

RK: We believe so because the Chinese government could have used places
further away that would have had less affect on the local Uyghurs. Instead,
the Chinese authorities consciously chose that place to do nuclear tests 45
times in three decades, and near three major Uyghur towns: Aqsu, Hotan and

WPFW: Just a final thought here. During your exile in the United States, the
Chinese secret service made an attempt on your life in Virginia, and I
believe the release of your autobiography has infuriated the current Chinese
regime. They are still holding three of your sons in prison, and one of your
daughters remains under house arrest as a kind of collateral to keep you

The book is called Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic Struggle for Peace with
China. A truly remarkable story. We thank you for all of your courageous
work, and we look forward to carrying on this conversation because I'm
really disappointed in the American media virtually having zero coverage of
this major genocide in the world. And yet we are aware, rather impotently
so, about what to do with Tibet. But we refuse to use the power that the
United States government and the president have at their disposal.

We are a broken and bankrupt nation. So we have to go hat in hand to the
Chinese. And the rulers in China have been wise in their manipulation by
giving us their money, and then they can continue doing anything to the
environment, to people and to whole cultures.

Rebiya Kadeer, thank you very much, ma'am.

RK: Thank you.

Gary Null is host of the nation’s longest-running radio show on alternative
health and an award-winning director of progressive documentary films.
Richard Gale is the executive producer of the Progressive Radio Network and
a scholar in Chinese languages, religion and culture.
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