Muslim Women Forced to Drink, Dance with Male Chinese Officials


2004-02-23
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Acrobat defector's family threatened with confiscation of privately owned home

A Chinese official forced female acrobats belonging to China's Muslim Uyghur minority to entertain his guests by drinking alcohol and inviting them to dance after a traditional acrobatic performance, RFA's Uyghur service reports.

Aygul (Eds: one name), one of seven Uyghur acrobats who sought permission to remain in Canada as refugees in January, said her troupe had been humiliated by such orders from the Han Chinese official in charge of it.

"Once we were taken to a private party room in the Fulu Hotel to carry out a so-called 'political duty,'" Aygul said. "After the performance, we were not allowed to go back home but forced to eat and drink with the official leaders. The worst thing was, we were forced to keep the official leaders happy by drinking alcoholic wine, even if we said no."

She said the leader of the acrobatic troupe, Zheng Qinhai, also commanded women in the troupe to invite his guests to dance, as a "political duty." "After drinking alcoholic wine, we were also forced to invite the official leaders for dancing. It is actually against our traditional rules," she said.

"Under his direction, we had to perform as monkeys in front of these unknown officials anywhere they chose. We were never paid a penny for it," Aygul said, adding that the acrobats complied for fear of losing their jobs.

"Every time we went out to entertain the official leaders, we came back at midnight and had to lie to our families. We could not tell them the truth, for it would have broken their hearts. We were living under such great pressure," she said, adding that Zheng had also pocketed some of her fees from a Malaysian tour the group made.

The seven defectors were part of a 12-member troupe from the northwest region of Xinjiang. The troupe had performed in Toronto at the Great Light of Chinese New Year Spring Festival from Jan. 22-26. They vacated their hotel and were driven by an Ottawa-based Uyghur friend to an immigration office, where they requested refugee status. The remainder of the troupe returned home after waiting several days in hope that they would change their minds.

Aygul said her family in the regional capital, Urumqi, had already received threats from the Chinese authorities, who responded to the defections with allegations that the troupe had been manipulated by overseas Uyghur separatists.

"They told my family that without my going back to Urumqi, they would confiscate our house. It is so unfair. We just bought that house by saving every single penny... for 20 years... It is our private house, it is not a free house given by the government. They have no right and no reason," she said.

Aygul rejected Chinese claims that supporters of Uyghur independence had influenced her decision. "No one forced us to do anything. We ourselves decided to stay, because we were under too much pressure when we were working in the acrobatic unit," she said.

The defectors based their asylum applications on serious human rights violations in the Uyghur Autonomous Region during the 1990s, according to a Uyghur acquaintance in Ottawa. He said the acrobats' lives had deteriorated from year to year, notably since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2002.

Riding on the political momentum of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, China has cracked down on pro-independence activists within its own borders. Beijing has also urged other governments to take a stand against Uyghur separatists in other countries.

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