Even before we were introduced I saw a warm smile that was just for me. She was about to give an interview that deserved her full attention, but for the moment what occupied her the most was a friendly smile towards me, coming from a deceptively young face. That was my first meeting with Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uighur Congress, in Hamburg.
It's hard to believe that this 59-year-old lady with the dark-grey hair, tidily bound in two long braids, is China's number one female "public enemy." This vital, but clearly controlled, and gesturing lady, with the impish laugh lines, is the best known representative of a nationality suppressed in China—the Uighurs. The Uighurs are high on the list of Germany's Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschaft fuer bedrohte Voelker GfbV). In October 1949 the suffering of her people started, says Kadeer, when the People's Republic of China (PRC) invaded East Turkestan, today's Autonomous Region Xinjiang. Her personal suffering started many years later.
Kadeer fell from grace with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders when she gave a speech in front of the Chinese People´s Congress that sharply criticized their policies in the province of Xinjiang. Shortly afterwards, she was expelled from the People´s Congress. In 1997 she also founded the "1000 Mothers Movement" in order to boost women's rights and economic self-sufficiency. In 1999 she was sentenced to eight years in prison for "spreading state secrets." By 2004 she was released because of pressure from the international community.
In her interview with The Epoch Times the former richest woman in China, mother of eleven children, and author of the book The Stormer of the Sky, speaks about the ongoing harsh treatment of her people and its representatives. Through planned transmigration, forced abortions, and the eradication of the Uighur culture, a genocide that continues to go unnoticed is happening in China.
ET: Mrs. Kadeer, how are your children who are still living in the Xinjiang region?
RK: Two sons are imprisoned and are not allowed to contact their wives. So far, there has been no opportunity to visit them. Three others are under house arrest. My relatives and friends are being spied on and fear that they will get in trouble. The passports of my relatives have been confiscated so they can't leave the country. Someone who supported me was hit by a car. I don't believe this happened by chance. The Chinese government tries to bring an end to my activities in the West, and is even writing letters to foreign governments. The Chinese Embassy wrote a letter to all Members of the European Parliament not to associate with me because I am a terrorist and separatist. Ignoring their request would "disturb relations." In my country they also paid people to make statements against me, and later broadcast those statements on TV. Is that how an honorable state works? I am no terrorist; the Chinese state is the terrorist here. It imprisons innocent people and kills; so who is the terrorist? I am convinced that I'm right because I fight for democracy and human rights, and I won't be intimidated.
ET: What do you think China's leaders see as the problem with the Uighurs?
RK: The CCP wants to assimilate us, and we resist—that's the main problem. The Chinese are Chauvinists because we have our own culture and identity. They came in 1949 as an occupying power. Now they are afraid that our cause will become known throughout the world. Sometimes, one might think that the Chinese want to erase the word "genocide" from the dictionary, and then they would have their peace. Don't get me wrong, we are not against China, we just want to live in peace and maintain our identity. For 48 years Uighurs tried to solve the conflict using peaceful means. We didn't break the law. In 1954 they took away our rich and intelligent people after accusing them of being separatists, fanatic religious followers, etc. In 1957 they put all our intellectuals in prisons with the excuse that they were against the communist regime. In 1966 they arbitrarily detained our leaders. The suppression came in three big waves.
ET: The CCP is trying to project a more modern image. Has anything changed for the Uighurs in the last few years?
RK: The policy towards others might have changed; but the policy towards the Uighurs has not. Neither was change evident at the 17th Party Congress. Until 10 years ago the CCP tried to destroy us with various means—then, they attacked our culture. Even now they are trying to eradicate our language and script. School children are being transferred to China. The CCP also covets our women. Females between 14 and 25 are sent to inner China against their will. That is very upsetting for us, as these young people have to work in bars and are put on display in windows. The CCP wants to increase the number of such girls to 1.2 million. Taking our females is gradual genocide. Uighur women are forced to abort their babies. Han-Chinese are brought in to water down our population. Even Uighurs with a university degree find it hard to get a job. Only Han Chinese are given the administrative jobs. When the CCP first occupied us in 1949, only two percent of the population was Han-Chinese. Now, they number 60 percent.
There is also widespread environmental damage. Three lakes have dried up, our natural resources are exploited, and thus, the environment is disturbed too. In the early days Uighurs were able to work in agriculture and earn a living. Now, they no longer have this opportunity because so many Han-Chinese have arrived. People resist such suppression.
ET: What about the situation of Uighurs in labor camps? Are there also cases of prisoners being killed for their organs like Falun Gong practitioners, as suggested in a report?
RK: That's a crucial point. Uighurs have to spend three months in labor camps each year where they work for free. Even children are not exempt. They are arbitrarily imprisoned and punished. Organs are sold, but since we don't have any evidence, I don't want to say much. When Uighurs are executed their bodies are not seen. What happens to their organs? Only in the rarest cases are the corpses of political prisoners returned to their families. That only happens in one of a thousand cases.
ET: What's the traditional Uighuric approach to this topic?
RK: According to our traditions, the sepulchre is a holy thing. Using the organs from a dead body is taboo. One has to be buried according to our traditions. What can you do if the soldiers take the corpses away? There are cases where we didn't get to see the body at all. The CCP then says, no, we can't allow this, he was a critic of the regime. With forced abortions it is often said that the babies were already dead when they were born; but what happens to their organs?
ET: Do you think that the media is deceived by China's leaders? Many reported that Hu Jintao used the word "democracy" 60 times in his speech at the 17th Party Congress.
RK: Reporters had better first observe, then report. Then, they wouldn't spread such dry and decades-old declarations.
If Hu speaks about democracy, he should make changes. Provide journalists with free access to all regions of China, and release persons like Chen Guangcheng, and all political activists, who is in jail just for making statements. He should also release my children. Hu should grant free access to Tibet and East Turkestan, so that journalists can see what's going on there. Then there would be democracy—not as much as in Europe—but at least one tenth of it should exist. Hu should grant free access to journalists of the world so that they can talk to the Falun Gong people, talk to the Tibetan Opposition, the Uighuric Opposition, and the democracy activists. Only then can they report that there is progress. Delegations from other countries should be sent there to see whether this is realized at least a little bit.
Before the Olympic games were granted to China, many promises were made, but no improvements in human rights have occurred. Media around the world shouldn't allow themselves to be used. There are no improvements in freedoms for the people in China.
If some progress in the direction of democratisation would have been made, they (China) would have welcomed the meeting of Angela Merkel and the Dalai Lama. If there really is democracy, why are they trying to suppress my activities; and why do they persecute me and sends letters to public authorities? If there is democracy, why can't the Falun Gong people practice their religion? If China was democratic, the government would have to accept that they made a mistake during the Tiananmen Square massacre and apologize to the world. Those who were in power at the time should be brought to justice. On the 5th of February 1997 many of our people were imprisoned and are still there. If all those changes occurred, the CCP could speak about democracy, and they would be believable.
ET: How should the West act when there are strong economic interests in China?
RK: The European countries, countries in the West, and the countries with democracy should seize every opportunity to exert pressure; otherwise this threat will grow every day. China tries to support other countries that also suppress their populace: Iran, Burma … That's why we have to make economic relations dependent on human rights. Democratic countries must be ready to make sacrifices. It wouldn't be the economic relations of Europe alone that faltered, it would also harm China. That's why we should take some risks and make sacrifices, and then one will see that China is not as strong as it might look from the outside. The western countries should work on this together. If Germany discontinues its relations, France should stop trading with China as well. There should be a common opinion. If Germany alone stands up for human rights and France and Great Britain don't, it won't be as effective.
ET: Why do you say that China is not that strong?
RK: China is not as strong as Europe perceives. If western companies and governments withdrew their investments from China it would harm the Chinese government a lot. Hundreds of thousands would become unemployed, which would weaken the government. The unrest from within would put pressure on the regime. The Chinese government likes to use two words: peace and solidarity. But those words are based on justice and democracy.