HONG KONG and WASHINGTON—The family home of prominent Uyghur exile leader Rebiya Kadeer in northwestern China has been slated for demolition and her family has been served with an eviction notice, according to residents.
Two businessmen, members of China’s mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority, said officials in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) plan to raze the Akida Trade Center, the Rebiya Kadeer Trade Center, and a third smaller building.
The three buildings, located in the regional capital Urumqi, were formerly fully owned by the Kadeer family and are now managed by government authorities. The exiled Rebiya Kadeer currently lives in Washington.
They can erase my name from the building by demolishing it, but they cannot erase it from the hearts of my people.”
One Uyghur businessman from Gulja (in Chinese, Yining), capital of the Ili Kazakh Prefecture, traveling in Kazakhstan said Urumqi authorities also gave notice of eviction to Uyghur merchants who owned stores in the building.
“Now, Uyghur merchants are forced to rent stores in other buildings owned by Han Chinese. The new buildings offered by the government are more expensive then Rebiya’s buildings, and the buildings are located in an area populated by Han Chinese,” he said.
The businessman said Uyghur merchants are either unable or unwilling to rent space in those areas because of higher tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese after violent riots erupted in Urumqi on July 5.
“It is difficult for Rebiya Kadeer’s relatives to find a place to rent in the current situation because Han Chinese hate them and Uyghurs are scared of [renting to] them,” he said.
Ahmetjan, a Uyghur merchant from Atush city in the far West of the remote Tarim Basin, said he had heard that merchants in Kadeer’s buildings were scrambling to prepare for the eviction.
“My uncle had to travel to Urumqi from Atush to find a new location for his business. He had a wholesale store in one of Rebiya’s buildings,” he said in a phone call from Kyrgyzstan, where he was traveling on business.
Thriving business community
The Akida Trade Center, which comprises 15 floors and 20,000 square meters of living space, also serves as a residence for Kadeer’s relatives, who draw an income by running a restaurant on the building’s first floor.
A total of 37 family members, including Kadeer’s sister, brothers, and grandchildren, live in the building.
The Kadeer Trade Center has served as the main wholesale center in the XUAR since it was established by Kadeer in 1990.
Several thousand Uyghur merchants have set up shop in both the Rebiya Kadeer Trade Center and the Akida Trade Center.
Both buildings are to be demolished for the construction of a public park, according to the eviction notice.
Local authorities were unavailable for comment.
‘Act of revenge’
Rebiya Kadeer condemned the move by Urumqi authorities as an “act of revenge against me and against Uyghurs over July 5.”
The official Chinese media has branded Kadeer the “mastermind” behind the ethnic riots and regularly accuses her of sponsoring separatist terrorism in the region.
She also voiced concern for her family members, who she said would face difficulty in finding a new source of income and place to live because they have been blacklisted by the government.
“I cannot believe this kind of retaliation—punishing the family members of a political dissident—can still occur in the 21st century. I had thought it was the last act of retaliation when the authorities forced my family to speak out against me on state-owned TV,” Kadeer said.
On Aug. 4, state-controlled television broadcast interviews with Kadeer’s son Kahar, daughter Rushangul and imprisoned son Alim, as well as with Kadeer’s younger brother Mehmet.
Kadeer maintains that her children and brother were compelled to make false accusations about her alleged role in the July 5 unrest.
The day before the interviews aired on television, official news media published a letter that accused Kadeer of having broken her promises not to participate in “ethnic splittism” when she left China.
The letter was signed by her children, their spouses, and five of her grandchildren.
Following her release from prison in 2005, and before her exile to the U.S., Chinese officials warned Kadeer against speaking out on behalf of Uyghurs in China, saying that if she continued to do so her children and businesses would be targeted.
When she later engaged in human rights advocacy in the United States, Chinese officials shut down her businesses and harassed her family members.
Following Kadeer’s election as president of the Uyghur American Association and the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, her sons Alim and Ablikim were detained and imprisoned for seven and nine years respectively.
“The Chinese will do whatever they can to stop my activities. Making my family homeless is probably just one of the measures they have planned,” she said.
Uyghur buildings razed
Kadeer said the buildings are two of the few remaining in Urumqi that were designed in Uyghur-style architecture.
Buildings with Chinese architecture have taken over the city in recent years.
“The authorities don’t want to see Uyghur-style buildings in the [Xinjiang] capital, and they don’t want to see my name anywhere in the city,” Kadeer said.
Officials began demolishing Uyghur-style buildings in the ancient city of Kashgar, in southwestern Xinjiang, a few months before the July 5 incident in Urumqi.
“They can erase my name from the building by demolishing it, but they cannot erase it from the hearts of my people,” she said.
Kadeer, 60, was a self-made millionaire in China and a favorite of the authorities until she spoke out about Beijing's heavy-handed treatment of her people, who frequently complain of harassment and discrimination and suffer high unemployment.
She later spent six years in prison for opposing the government and was released into U.S. exile in 2005.
Since the Urumqi unrest, the Chinese government has harshly criticized the governments of Japan and Australia for granting Kadeer visas to travel to their countries on unofficial visits.
It has also attempted to prevent an independent Australian film festival from screening a documentary about Kadeer’s life.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.