Uyghur rights activist resigns amid sexual harassment claims

Nury Turkel resigned as chair of the Uyghur Human Rights Project.
By Alex Willemyns for RFA
2024.05.20
Washington
Uyghur rights activist resigns amid sexual harassment claims Nury Turkel testifies during a special House committee hearing dedicated to countering China, Thursday, March 23, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(arolyn Kaster/AP

UPDATED at 10:03 a.m. on May 22, 2024.

Uyghur American human rights activist Nury Turkel has resigned as chair of the Uyghur Human Rights Project following a news article that accused him of sexual harassment of female activists.

The UHRP said in a statement that its board accepted Turkel’s resignation on Friday and appointed former Vice Chair Justinian Rudelson Ben-Adam as his replacement.

The Washington-based group is one of the most prominent organizations advocating for the plight of Uyghurs, who have suffered severe human rights abuses by Chinese authorities.

“UHRP has no tolerance for sexual harassment and is firmly committed to high ethical standards. UHRP is committed to ensuring a welcoming environment for women and all activists in the movement for Uyghur human rights,” the group said in a statement.

A “reputable and experienced law firm” was hired to investigate, the statement added, and UHRP plans to take “a number of additional concrete steps” to address the claims of sexual harassment and “gender-based violence” in the workplace.

“We know as an organization that we can do better,” it said.

A May 10 article said Turkel was accused of harassing women at the 2019 and 2022 editions of Oslo Freedom Forum, and separately of making a “sexual advance” following a work meeting in 2021.

An activist who had engaged in a “consensual sexual relationship” with Turkel was also sidelined from the UHRP after she spoke to its leaders about his behavior, according to the article, which was published by NOTUS, an outlet of the Allbritton Journalism Institute.

UHRP initially downplayed the claims in the NOTUS article.

According to the article, a UHRP representative told NOTUS that the investigation conducted by the law firm, Isler Dare, led to the conclusion that “there is simply no basis to support allegations that the board member engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct.”

Reached by telephone, Louisa Greve, the director of global advocacy at UHRP, declined to comment on the discrepancy between the group’s initial denials of Turkel’s harassment and its statement on Friday.

Radio Free Asia has also reached out to Turkel for comment.

Turkel is a prominent lawyer and long-time advocate for the Uyghur cause who also served as chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.  He was among six commission members who completed their terms last week on that body, which advises the U.S. administration and Congress.  

Turkel’s successor as chair of the UHRP, Rudelson Ben-Adams, is an anthropologist who has been involved in Uyghur human rights work for four decades. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the Jewish Movement for Uyghur Freedom.

This article was updated to clarify the UHRP activist's claims about being sidelined from the organization.

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