Leadership of the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) passed to a new generation in an election held in Munich at the weekend, with former WUC general secretary Dolkun Isa voted in as president and long-serving leader Rebiya Kadeer elevated to the honorary post of paramount leader.
Kadeer, who had served as WUC president for almost 11 years, hailed the vote, speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service from her home in Washington D.C.
“I accept the supervisory role of being paramount leader,” the now 70-year-old Kadeer said. “It is time for the younger generation to take up the leadership role at the WUC.”
Kadeer, a formerly successful businesswoman in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, was released from a Chinese prison in March 2005 on medical parole after being jailed for six years for sending politically sensitive newspaper clippings abroad, and went into exile in the U.S.
Speaking to RFA following his Nov. 12 election, Dolkun Isa thanked the exile Uyghur delegates coming from over a dozen countries who had voted for him.
“I am truly honored and humbled by their love for our motherland and resolve for a free East Turkestan,” Isa said, using the name favored by many Uyghurs for their traditional homeland, a region now claimed by China as Xinjiang.
“I also want to thank our paramount leader Rebiya Kadeer for blessing this Congress, and am looking forward to working with her in the future,” Isa said.
“Her valuable experiences and advice are indispensable to our peaceful struggle for human rights, democracy, and self-determination,” Isa said.
New policy approach
Pointing to what he called China’s intensifying repression in the Xinjiang region, Isa said that he and other newly elected officers of the WUC will soon chart out a new “peaceful and pragmatic” policy approach to securing the Uyghur people’s freedom and rights.
“In the meantime, I call on China’s leaders to respect China’s constitution and regional ethnic autonomy laws, and I urge them to come to the negotiation table to find a permanent solution to the issue of East Turkestan through mutual respect and dialogue.”
Since April, thousands of Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views have been detailed in political re-education camps and prisons throughout Xinjiang, where members of the mostly Muslim ethnic group complain of religious and cultural repression and harassment under Chinese rule.
The crackdown has also seen students who traveled to Egypt for Islamic studies being rounded up by Egyptian authorities at China's behest, with some taken back to China and most held incommunicado. The incarceration of large numbers of Uyghur males has put pressure on women and children to take over farm chores in Xinjiang.
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames some Uyghurs for “terrorist” attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat and that repressive policies in Xinjiang are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.