Uyghur Woman Held in China Wins Rafto Human Rights Prize

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Rebiya Kadeer

WASHINGTON—A Muslim Uyghur political woman jailed in China has won a Norwegian human rights award whose winners have sometimes gone on to win the Nobel Prize for Peace. Norway's Rafto Foundation announced Sept. 24 that it was awarding it annual prize to Rebiya Kadeer, 58, who has been jailed in China since 2000.

In announcing the award, the Oslo-based Rafto Foundation said that Kadeer “has distinguished herself in the struggle for the rights of the Uyghurs and against social and economic marginalization.” It urged her unconditional release.

“She has made significant contributions to securing women’s rights and in 1997 she founded the ‘Thousand Mothers Movement’ to promote job training and employment for Uyghur women. Kadeer also established evening schools for Uyghurs who did not have the opportunity to go to ordinary school,” it said.

Secret trial

Kadeer’s husband Sidik Rouzi immigrated to the United States in 1996. In March 2000, Kadeer was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment following a secret trial at which neither Kadeer nor her lawyer was permitted to speak. Her sentence was later cut by a year, making her eligible for parole in August 2006.

“Kadeer is described as a charismatic entrepreneur and successful business woman. In the 1990s she emerged as a symbol for how minorities could succeed in China. In recognition of her significant contribution to women’s rights, Kadeer was appointed to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the Xinjiang Regional People’s Congress. She was also a delegate to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995.”

Nobel prizes

Four winners of the Rafto prize since 1990 have gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, also awarded in Norway. The Rafto prize, set up in 1986, is worth 50,000 crowns ($7,381) and named after late human rights activist Thorolf Rafto.

The 2003 Nobel laureate, Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, won the 2001 Rafto prize. Former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung won both the Nobel and Rafto prizes in 2000. The 2004 Nobel Prize for Peace will be announced Oct. 8.

Abuses in Xinjiang

In its 2003 report on human rights around the world, the U.S State Department said Uyghurs in China “were executed and sentenced to long prison terms during the year on charges of separatism. According to official accounts, by May 2001, the authorities had prosecuted more than 3,000 cases and massive public sentencing rallies attended by more than 300,000 persons had been held throughout the region.”

“For many Uyghurs, the ongoing imprisonment of Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer symbolized the Government's mistreatment of Uyghurs. In March 2000, a Xinjiang court sentenced Kadeer, a former member of the provincial-level Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, to eight years in prison on charges of ‘passing state intelligence’ to foreigners; according to an official press report, the intelligence she was accused of passing included newspaper articles and a list of names of persons whose cases had been handled by the courts.”

Distinct population

Uyghurs constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia. They have twice declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the 1930s and the late 1940s,but have remained under Beijing's control since 1949.

According to a Chinese Government white paper, in 1998 Xinjiang comprised 8 million Uyghurs, 2.5 million other ethnic minorities, and 6.4 million Han Chinese-up from 300,000 Han in 1949. Most Uyghurs are poor farmers, and at least 25 percent are illiterate.

On the Web:

Free Rebiya Kadeer Campaign, Uyghur Human Rights Project

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