UYGHUR POET EXPELLED BY SYRIA SEEKS REFUGEE STATUS


2004-02-11
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Arab poets protest his deportation after 15 years� residency

A Uyghur poet well-known in the Arab world for his command of the classical Arabic poetic tradition has applied to the United Nations for refugee status after Syria expelled him�despite his 15 years� residence in the country and marriage to a Syrian national, RFA�s Mandarin and Uyghur services report.

Damascus� decision to deport Osman, who is known by a single name, came after the Chinese government published a blacklist of what it calls Islamic terror organizations working for independence in the northwestern Muslim region of Xinjiang.

Speaking to RFA�s Mandarin service in Ankara, where he arrived last week, Osman said his prominence in the world of Arabic poetry meant that Beijing was wary of the influence he might exert for the Uyghur cause in the Middle East and among Uyghurs in exile.

�The Chinese government may think that after I become famous in Arabic poetry, I will intentionally mention things about East Turkestan, and Uyghur, so Arab poets are sure to hear and be influenced by what I say,� Osman said. East Turkestan is the name used for Xinjiang by Uyghurs who oppose Chinese rule in the region.

Osman, an occasional contributor to RFA�s Uyghur service, said he had no intention of using his poetry for political ends. �I think it is not necessary for the Chinese government to think that way,� he said. �A Uyghur person like me, who is famous in Arabic poetry, is not good for the Chinese government or East Turkestan activities. That�s how they see it.�

In December, China�s Ministry of Public Security named four groups campaigning for self-rule in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. One of the organizations was the East Turkestan Information Center (ETIC), which runs a prominent news Web site on Uyghur affairs. The other three were named as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), East Turkestan Liberation Organization (ETLO), and World Uyghur Youth Congress (WUYC).

At the same time, it issued a list of 11 Uyghur activists whom it named as international terrorists, linking the U.S.-led war on terror with its own efforts to quash smoldering anti-Chinese sentiment in Xinjiang. It called on the international community to give the cold shoulder to any Uyghur activists living overseas.

Osman, who is married to a Syrian woman, said Damascus needed all the allies it could get given escalating tensions in the Middle East.

When the news emerged that Osman was being expelled, 270 prominent figures in the world of Arabic poetry, including the Syrian poet and Nobel Literature Prize nominee Adunis, signed a petition, and staged a demonstration against the deportation order.

The London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat responded to the news with the headline �Syria becomes a province of China,� while the Lebanese media blamed Syria�s own poor record on freedom of speech.

Osman said he was in the process of applying for refugee status with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey and hoped to be resettled in a third country.

Uyghurs constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia. They declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in 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. #####

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