Updated at 9:55 a.m. EST on 11-14-2012
The executive committee chairman for the Munich-based exile World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa, who is on top of China's "terrorist" list, has been allowed to enter the United States after being barred twice during the last 13 years.
Overseas Uyghur activists hailed Washington's decision to allow him into the country as a "political victory" for ethnic Uyghurs, who say they are subject to persecution in China's troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang and have faced various travel restrictions abroad by governments on the advice of Beijing, activists said.
Dolkun Isa, who is a German citizen, said his application for a travel visa at the U.S. consulate in Munich was finally approved last week, enabling him to travel for meetings with U.S. government and congressional officials as well as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a grant-making organization that works to support freedom around the world.
"It is a victory for U.S. justice, a victory for me personally and, more importantly, for the Uyghur cause," he told RFA in Washington, after arriving in the U.S. on Nov. 9. "But I had never lost my hope of traveling to the United States all these years," he said.
Dolkun Isa said he was placed number three among Uyghurs on the Chinese terrorist list in 2003.
"Maybe, the U.S. authorities at first believed the Chinese accusations but after several years of investigations, they finally did not believe the Chinese accusations," said Dolkun Isa, whose World Uyghur Congress speaks out on issues affecting Uyghurs inside Xinjiang and the Uyghur exile community around the world.
"The Chinese government has for several years been trying to stop all activities of the World Uyghur Congress and they have also attacked me. Sometimes, they have succeeded," he said.
He said that he had not been involved in any terrorism-related or unlawful activities when he was in China.
The Chinese Ministry of Public Security had accused some of those on the terror list of being linked to separatist violence in the Xinjiang region but exile groups believe Beijing is exaggerating the terrorism threat to crack down on Uyghurs in Xinjiang and abroad.
Dolkun Isa said that he first attempted to apply for a U.S. visa in 1999 to attend a U.S. congressional meeting while he was a refugee in Germany.
"I went to the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt to get a visa. But I was taken from the U.S. consulate to the German police office," he said, adding that he suspected that his name was on the Interpol list.
In 2006, after he obtained German citizenship, he flew to the United States without applying for a visa, based on the understanding that Germans are covered by a U.S. visa-waiver program.
"At the Dulles airport in Washington, I was stopped and after 23 hours, and the immigration authorities sent me back to Germany. They did not say exactly the reason for not letting me enter the country but my impression was I have been put on a blacklist of the State Department," he said.
Now that the U.S. has decided to allow him into the country, he hoped that other countries that had denied him entry, such as Turkey and South Korea, would also allow him to travel there to meet with exile Uyghur communities.
When asked to comment on Dolkun Isa's case, U.S. officials said they cannot speak on specific visa cases because those records are confidential but stressed that the State Department does not have any "blacklist" for travelers.
But the department maintains a database, called CLASS, that has over 39 million records on those who may be inadmissible to the United States, the officials told RFA. The entries to the database are added by U.S. government agencies.
There are various conditions, including security-related conditions, imposed on citizens of countries covered under the visa-waiver program and wishing to travel to the United States, the officials said.
In addition, a visa only authorizes a traveler to approach the port of entry into the United States.
"The Department of Homeland Security has the final say on who can be admitted to the United States," a State Department official said.
Still, Nury Turkel, a Uyghur American attorney based in Washington, described Dolkan Isa's visit to the United States as a "political victory" for all Uyghurs, saying the Chinese government was trying to curtail the Uyghur freedom movement domestically and internationally.
"This is a big slap in the face of the Chinese," he said.
Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified Dolkun Isa as spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress.