It Could Have Been Me: Anita Roddick on Rebiya Kadeer; A Businesswoman Once Celebrated by the Chinese Authorities Was Forced to Flee to the US Because She Stood Up for Human Rights. Now Her Children Are Being Persecuted
Roddick, Anita, New Statesman (1996)
Like me, Rebiya Kadeer is a businesswoman and a mother. Like me, she has a passionate interest in human rights and in the power of activism to change things.
Unlike me, Rebiya's career was based in China. And unlike me, she was harassed, then imprisoned for nearly six years. On her release, she has continued her activism from exile in the US. But the authorities back home have intensified their attacks on her sons and daughters.
Rebiya is a member of China's Uighur ethnic minority, who are predominantly Muslim. The authorities stepped up their persecution of Uighurs in the aftermath of 9/11. Mosques have been closed down, clergy detained, and Uighur books banned and their authors jailed. Freedom of expression and association have been severely restricted and thousands of people imprisoned across the region.
From 1997, Rebiya Kadeer suffered police harassment and travel restrictions due both to her husband's activism outside China as well as her own human-rights work on behalf of the Uighur people, such as forming the "Thousand Mothers' Movement" to encourage Uighur women to run their own businesses.
She was detained on 11 August 1999 in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region while trying to meet an American research group. Three weeks later, she was charged with "illegally offering state secrets across the border", which related to sending publicly available newspaper articles to her husband, who lives in the US.
Rebiya was released from prison in March 2005 on medical parole. While in custody she was warned that if she engaged with members of the Uighur community, or spoke publicly about "sensitive issues" after her release, her "businesses and children would be finished". Her sons were detained on charges of tax evasion and "subversion".
Defiant, Rebiya was elected president of the World Uighur Congress. Later the same day, her son Ablikim was reportedly beaten so badly while in detention that he was carried out of Tianshan District detention centre on a stretcher. Amnesty believes his health is in danger, and that he is at risk of further torture or ill-treatment. …