Commentary: Uighur's Release Is a Victory Over Tyranny
Alim Seytoff | The Wall Street Journal Online
March 24, 2005
Regardless of Beijing's motives for her release, the liberation of prominent
Uighur political prisoner Rebiya Kadeer is a victory for freedom over
tyranny. Her release has proven that even authoritarian regimes are
susceptible to international pressure, and also shows that victory belongs
to those who patiently and relentlessly fight for human rights.
Ms. Kadeer was released by the Chinese government last week on medical
parole to the United States. Her sudden release was welcomed by the Bush
Administration, and hailed by human-rights organizations and Uighur exile
communities around the world. Although there was skepticism about Beijing's
political motivation for her early release, everyone is happy that she is
finally free after serving six years in prison for "leaking state secrets."
Ms. Kadeer, 58, upon arriving and receiving a hero's welcome when she
arrived in Washington last week, vowed to continue to fight for the freedom
of the Uighur people under China's authoritarian rule. She said, "I will
keep on fighting for my people until my last breath." She seemed more
determined than ever to campaign for the human rights of the Uighur people.
Ms. Kadeer is a mother of 11 and a former laundress-turned- millionaire.
Before her arrest in August 1999, she was one of the most prominent Uighur
businesswomen in China. Ms. Kadeer ran a multimillion dollar business, and a
department store in her name in downtown Urumchi, capital of Xinjiang (East
Turkestan). In order to alleviate poverty among Uighur women, she started a
"Thousand Mothers Movement" to help them to start their own businesses. She
was featured in Forbes Magazine in the mid-1990s as one of the richest
entrepreneurs in China. She was even praised for her philanthropic efforts
by the Chinese government as a symbol of its "sunshine" policies toward the
As a result, Ms. Kadeer was appointed as a member of the official advisory
body of the National People's Congress, and even sent to the Fourth World
Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Beijing's attitude toward Ms. Kadeer
changed when her husband Sidik Rouzi Haji fled to the U.S. in 1996 and began
to criticize Beijing's treatment of the Uighur people. The Chinese
authorities pressured her to divorce her dissident husband, but she flatly
refused. As a consequence, she was stripped of her membership in the
National People's Congress and forbidden to travel abroad.
To punish Ms. Kadeer for her disloyalty to the Chinese Communist Party, the
Chinese authorities arrested her in August 1999 while she was on her way to
meet a member of a U.S. congressional delegation in Urumchi. In March 2000,
she was sentenced to eight years in prison in a secret trial for "leaking
state secrets to foreigners." The Chinese court presented openly available
newspaper clippings as evidence of her "crime." Since then, she had been
incarcerated in a prison in Urumchi.
By arresting Ms. Kadeer, Beijing wanted to demonstrate to the Uighur people
that no matter how rich, influential, or intelligent they were, they could
be eliminated as long as they didn't serve Beijing's political interests.
Initially, Chinese leaders thought that they could simply lock her up and
throw away the key, as they did to all the previous Uighur political
prisoners since 1949. But the Chinese authorities never anticipated that the
international community would pay such incessant attention to Ms. Kadeer's
case, and keep up relentless pressure on Beijing to release her.
Ms. Kadeer's case became an international embarrassment for the Chinese
government after Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch publicized and
aggressively pursued her freedom. Later, after U.S. Congress passed
resolutions demanding her immediate release, her case became a thorny issue
in U.S.-China relations. In 2000, Human Rights Watch awarded Ms. Kadeer its
highest human-rights award for her work among the Uighur people. Last year,
the Norwegian Rafto Foundation recognized her human-rights efforts and
honored her with the Rafto Award. As a consequence, China's leaders realized
that they would have to release her sooner or later. In order to save face,
however, they did not want to appear to be releasing her under foreign
pressure. They sought to do so only at an advantageous time that would serve
Beijing's political interests.
Early this year, after Ms. Kadeer was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize,
Beijing got the message that the time to release her had finally come. It
would be disastrous for China's international image if she was awarded the
most prestigious prize in the world while she was in prison, and Beijing
simply could not afford such international embarrassment.
Furthermore, whenever a high-level U.S. official has visited Beijing, Ms.
Kadeer's case has always been a top priority in bilateral dialogue between
the U.S. and China. So when the first official visit of U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleeza Rice was scheduled for March 20, time was ripe for Ms.
Ms. Kadeer's release came three days before Ms. Rice's official visit to
Beijing. Human-rights organizations and some analysts believe that the
Chinese leaders released her before Ms. Rice's arrival in an attempt to
create a friendly diplomatic atmosphere between the U.S. and China. Some
even suspect that her release was a quid pro quo for the U.S. decision not
to try to censure Beijing at the upcoming session of the United Nations
human-rights convention in Geneva. Indeed, the Bush Administration, citing
improved human rights conditions in China, dropped the issue on the same day
Beijing released Ms. Kadeer on medical parole to the U.S.
Ms. Kadeer's release should not be seen as Beijing's change of policy toward
the Uighur people, or as a sign of improvement in China's human-rights
situation. Still, the release of Ms. Kadeer is the first moral victory of
the Uighur people over China's hardline policies in East Turkestan since
1949. Her rise and fall in China, and her subsequent arrest and release,
symbolizes the suffering of the Uighur people. Her tragedy is not personal
but national. Her determination is the hope for the Uighur people who have
been mistreated by the Chinese authorities for the last 55 years. Ms.
Kadeer's struggle has demonstrated that the world recognizes the Uighur
people's inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,
in spite of the fact that Beijing has denied them these rights.
Mr. Seytoff is general secretary of the Uyghur American Association.