A leader of the Uyghur community in exile has called on Western nations to act as a “bridge” for dialogue with Beijing over demands for self-determination and accusations of human rights abuses in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The call was made by Rebiya Kadeer, head of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, as Uyghurs held rallies in front of Chinese diplomatic missions in 10 countries this week to mark the second anniversary of Beijing’s bloody crackdown on Uyghur protests in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi.
“If the U.S. and EU want to create longstanding peace in the world, then they should voice their ideas on human rights at the same level for all the countries, no matter how strong they are and no matter who it will benefit,” Kadeer said.
The exile leader said that the international response to the Chinese crackdown on the July 5, 2009 protests was inadequate.
“Action taken by third parties on behalf of the Uyghur issue not only would help the Uyghurs, it also would address the issue of security and stability in China … [and] around the world,” she said.
Kadeer said she hopes the U.S. and EU can act as a bridge for dialogue between the Uyghurs and China by “making the Uyghur voice heard.”
“We will never ever forget July 5, because it is the day we were shown the true nature of the regime Uyghurs are living under. We will not forget July 5 because we lost more than 1,000 young Uyghurs who dedicated their lives to justice and rights,” she said.
“We cannot be silenced because our people are still suffering from the tension created by China in the name of stability.”
According to Kadeer, police responding to demonstrations on the streets of Urumqi shot several hundred Uyghur protesters. More than 1,000 Uyghurs were jailed and several thousand were “disappeared” in the aftermath of the violence, she said.
Clashes between Uyghur demonstrators and police sparked a three-day rampage of violence between the majority Chinese Han and the Uyghurs, leaving nearly 200 people dead, according to official figures.
The original demonstration had called for investigation into the deaths of Uyghurs during ethnic riots at a toy factory in China's southern province of Guangdong.
Only a few court cases pertaining to the July 5 violence have been publicized in China. Exile Uyghur organizations maintain that Uyghurs implicated in the event have not had access to legal representation and that authorities have not notified defendants’ families about their trials.
“We know that China is not ready to talk with us at this time because they are feeling guilt for their actions on July 5,” Kadeer said.
Protests on Tuesday against Chinese rule in Xinjiang and Beijing’s handling of the Urumqi unrest drew thousands of Uyghur activists from more than 20 exile organizations in the U.S., Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Australia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Several international human rights activists, including a number of Chinese and Tibetan activists, attended the protests in a show of support for the Uyghur community.
“I believe that all the ethnic problems in China are rooted in the political system,” said Yang Jianli, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown who attended the demonstration in Washington.
“If China were to adopt a democratic system, the Uyghur people would have access to all their rights, and relations between the Han and other ethnicities would naturally become normalized.”
World Uyghur Congress General Secretary Dolkun Isa said the Uyghur community will step up efforts to draw international attention to the July 5 incident.
“That is why our people are fighting for peace and willing to die if needed, the same way we did on July 5 in Urumqi,” he said.
Millions of Uyghurs—a distinct, Turkic minority who are predominantly Muslim—populate Central Asia and Xinjiang.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
At least 26 people, mostly Uyghurs, were sentenced to death in the aftermath of the 2009 riots, many of whom have been executed, according to state media. Uyghur exile groups say more than 50 Uyghurs have been given the death sentence.
A number of Uyghurs who sought refuge in neighboring countries following the unrest have been forcibly repatriated to China where they are likely to face torture and possibly death.
China has blamed exiled Uyghur dissident Rebiya Kadeer for instigating the deadly ethnic unrest in Xinjiang. But Kadeer has denied the charges, saying that the violence was sparked by decades of discrimination and persecution directed at Uyghurs, their religion and culture, by the ruling Communist Party.
Many Uyghurs, who twice enjoyed short-lived independence as the state of East Turkestan during the 1930s and 40s, are bitterly opposed to Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang.
Chinese authorities have launched a series of "strike hard" campaigns targeting Uyghurs, often in the name of anti-terrorism operations.
International rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S. “war on terror” to crack down on nonviolent supporters of Uyghur independence.
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.