WASHINGTON-The United States will press Beijing to free jailed Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, a U.S. senior official said Jan. 26 at a ceremony in which Kadeer was honored in absentia with Norway's prestigious Rafto Prize.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Randall Schriver said that Washington's concerns over Kadeer, 58 and a native of China's Muslim-majority Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, would be raised with the Chinese government.
Schriver said Kadeer's case and other human rights questions would remain on the U.S.-China agenda because "the human face is important" in relations between the two powers.
T. Kumar, Amnesty International's Washington-based advocacy director for Asia and Pacific, said President George W. Bush should give top priority to Kadeer's case because she was arrested while on her way to meet with a U.S. Congressional staff delegation in August 1999.
Through this award, the Rafto Foundation directs a strong appeal to the Chinese government to respect and protect the civil, economic and cultural rights of the Uyghurs as well as other minorities in China. The Rafto Foundation is concerned about Ms. Kadeer's health and urges her immediate and unconditional release.
Kadeer was tried in secret with allegedly "providing secret information to foreigners" and handed an eight-year jail term that was later reduced. A mother of 11 and a businesswoman, Kadeer must serve another one and a half years of her jail term.
"She is like the mother and the voice of the oppressed Uyghurs," said Nury Turkel, president of the Uyghur American Association.
Sidik Rouzi, Kadeer's husband and a former prisoner in China, and their daughter, Akida Rouzi, accepted the Rafto Prize on her behalf. The prize is named after Norwegian human rights advocate Thorolf Rafto.
"Through this award, the Rafto Foundation directs a strong appeal to the Chinese government to respect and protect the civil, economic and cultural rights of the Uyghurs as well as other minorities in China. The Rafto Foundation is concerned about Ms. Kadeer's health and urges her immediate and unconditional release," the Thorolf Rafto Foundation for Human Rights said in a statement.
In its most recent report on human rights in China, the U.S. State Department noted that "for many Uyghurs, the ongoing imprisonment of Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer symbolized the Government's mistreatment of Uyghurs."
"Regulations restricting Muslims' religious activity, teaching, and places of worship continued to be implemented forcefully in Xinjiang. Authorities reportedly continued to prohibit the teaching of Islam to children under the age of 18 in areas where ethnic unrest has occurred and reserved the right to censor imams' sermons, particularly during sensitive religious holidays," the report said.
"For example, an independent imam in Kunming, Yunnan Province, was forced by the local patriotic association to stop preaching after he began to draw large crowds. Authorities believed his sermons were too fundamentalist in tone.In addition, in some areas, fasting reportedly was prohibited or made difficult during Ramadan," it said.
"There were numerous official media reports that the authorities confiscated illegal religious publications in Xinjiang. The Xinjiang People's Publication House was the only publisher allowed to print Muslim literature in Xinjiang, and stores reported that those selling literature not included on Government lists of permitted items risked closure."
The Chinese government has blamed pro-independence separatists for a string of bombings and riots in Xinjiang since the 1990s, although officials say none has occurred in the last few years. Human rights groups and Western governments routinely criticize China for its heavy-handed treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.
Beijing has backed the U.S.-led war on terror, and called for international support for its campaign against Uyghur separatists, whom it has branded terrorists. China says Uyghurs seeking an independent Islamic state have killed 162 people and injured 440 others.
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.