Authorities in Kazakhstan have blocked Uyghur exile leader Kahriman Ghojamberdi from traveling to Washington D.C. for a meeting of the World Uyghur Congress, underscoring Chinese pressure on the central Asian state.
Ghojamberdi, 60, vice president of the World Uyghur Congress, was stopped by customs officials at the Almaty airport on Sunday and told that his passport was not valid for travel.
“I had gone through all the procedures at the airport, and just at the last step, when I handed my passport to the customs officer, he returned the passport to me after approximately five minutes and said ‘You cannot not travel with this passport, because two pages are ripped out,’” Ghojamberdi said in an interview.
But no pages had been missing from his passport earlier, he explained.
“I have traveled with this passport twice to Washington and twice to Europe with no problems,” he added.
He had previously traveled to the United States several times since the 1990s, including his most recent visit for a World Uyghur Congress meeting in 2009.
Kahriman Ghojamberdi (extreme right), at the third World Uyghur Congress meeting , May 21, 2009.
Ghojamberdi was scheduled to attend a week-long meeting of Uyghur groups from around the world beginning Monday in Washington, on the theme “The Future of Uyghur People in East Turkestan.”
Many Uyghur activists use the term “East Turkestan” to refer to an independent state they are struggling for in the present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China.
Several U.S. lawmakers are scheduled to address the Washington conference. There are also plans to hold protests in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C.
Kyrgyzstan attendees blocked
In another development, four Uyghur activists from Kyrgyzstan planning to attend the conference were also prevented from boarding a plane to Washington.
“The four were taken off of the airplane by police on Sunday, and were not given any explanation for why they cannot travel,” said Omer Kanat, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress.
“Obviously, it is a slander to block me from the conference by orders from China. The Central Asian countries are acting as one of the provinces of China since the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was established,” Ghojamberdi said.
Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, along with Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and China, are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security grouping in which Beijing wields great influence.
Ghojamberdi explained that several other Uyghur activists had also been pressured not to attend the conference.
“In the past 30 days most of my friends who received invitations from Washington to attend the congress were ‘investigated’ by Kazakh police and ‘persuaded’ not to attend the conference."
“Three Uyghur artists whose visas were already approved gave up attending because of threats by police,” he said.
Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress, accused the two Central Asian states of bowing to Chinese demands.
“Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan not only abuse Uyghur activists’ rights, they also abuse the rights of their own citizens,” she said.
“I know that both countries need help from China, so to some extent, I can understand why they are not allowing Uyghur political activists against China in their country."
“But I am surprised at why they are involved in Uyghur activities in other countries and how they can follow China’s orders like they are a part of China.”
Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Reported for RFA’s Uyghur Service and translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.