No one was more surprised to hear that World Uyghur Congress (WUC) secretary-general Dolkun Isa had secretly entered Taiwan than Isa himself. Next Magazine reported last week that Isa, along with 14 other Uighurs who have “all committed serious crimes such as murder, robbery and arson” had sneaked into the country one by one over the past month, posing a threat to the World Games.
“If this article had been published by a Chinese newspaper, I wouldn’t be surprised, because China makes this [kind of allegation] every day,” Isa said by telephone on Saturday — two days into the Games — from his office in Munich, Germany. “But this time it was Taiwanese media.”
Also this time, the allegations were followed by the National Immigration Agency (NIA) saying it had barred Isa from entering Taiwan.
The article, titled “East Turkestan independence leaders secretly enter Taiwan, cast a shadow over the World Games,” is a regurgitation of allegations Isa has faced for years from Beijing, the crux of which is that he is a terrorist.
Germany, which gave Isa asylum in 1997 and citizenship in 2006, does not seem concerned about the claims. Nor does the US National Endowment for Democracy, which funds the WUC, or Taiwan’s own National Foundation for Democracy, which hosted the 2006 General Assembly of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and invited Isa.
Taiwan co-founded the UNPO — along with exiled Uighur activists and leaders from 13 other unrepresented nations or peoples — in 1991. Isa is the president of the East Turkestan section of the General Assembly.
He criss-crosses the globe freely for meetings on human rights violations in Xinjiang, but now wonders what he should do if his schedule were to bring him to Taiwan again.
Rebiya Kadeer, the face of the international campaign for Uighur rights, was equally dismayed. Kadeer, a one-time political prisoner who lives in Washington, is president of the WUC.
“The World Uyghur Congress is not a terrorist organization but a democratic organization [that] peacefully struggles for the human rights, freedom and democracy of Uyghurs,” she said by e-mail. “It is really unfortunate that Taiwan, as a democratic country, designated Mr. Isa as a persona non grata based on unfounded allegations.”
Next Magazine did not present evidence that Isa is in Taiwan, citing only unspecified “security authorities.” At one point, the article states: “There is no record of [Isa] coming to Taiwan [since 2006], but if he were to come on a different passport or sneak into Taiwan, police would have no way of knowing.”
While it would be difficult to prove that the magazine, which has a reputation for dubious claims, has no source, it is noteworthy that the Criminal Investigation Bureau, when contacted by the Taipei Times, said there was no reason Isa should not be let into the country and no suspicion that he is involved in terrorism.
It is much easier to prove that Next Magazine omitted the other side of the story. Although it dedicated four pages (largely photographs) to the article, the only qualification to its claims is the sentence: “Amnesty International has asked all parties to address the East Turkestan independence movement issue and is quite reserved about China’s repeated use of the labels ‘rebellion’ and ‘terrorism’ for the East Turkestan independence movement.”
Read Amnesty’s reports on the topic and it’s clear that this is an understatement.
Next Magazine does not cite any Uighur source in Isa’s defense, including Isa himself or any of his colleagues.
It says that Isa visited Taiwan in 2006, but fails to mention that this was for a government-funded UNPO event.
It says that Isa is the vice chairman of the East Turkestan Liberation Organization (ETLO), but not that Isa denies this, nor that the UN and the US have refused Beijing’s call to list the ETLO as a terrorist group. Some Uighur activists are unconvinced the ETLO is real, although it crops up in media reports from time to time.
“I heard this organization’s name for the first time in Chinese media and heard I’m its vice president,” Isa said.
He was the head of the World Uyghur Youth Congress at the time, but says no one he knew had even heard of the ETLO.
Kadeer wrote in her e-mail: “We are not sure what ETLO is or whether it actually exists.”
Next Magazine says that Interpol issued a red notice for Isa, but doesn’t mention that Germany has not acted on the alert, which is not an international arrest warrant but a request by China for Isa’s extradition. Interpol notes in bold typeface on its Web site that a red notice does not prove guilt.
“We believe the Chinese government put [Isa’s] name on the Interpol list in order to prevent his international travel and advocacy. That is how the Chinese government disrupts our work,” Kadeer said.
Indeed, Interpol notices have authority. When the Swedish police arrested a prominent Uzbek dissident who obtained political asylum in Norway at Stockholm’s airport, it, too, was based on an Interpol notice for extradition. Mohammad Solih was released the next day, but the mix-up highlighted the problem with an international police agency that allows authoritarian regimes to submit intelligence.
Human Rights Watch berated Sweden at the time and reminded all countries to be skeptical of red notices concerning Uzbekistan, “given the Uzbek government’s notorious record of politically motivated persecution.”
The same should apply to China.
Next Magazine further fails to mention that Isa and the WUC have repeatedly condemned violence and that the WUC is funded by the US government.
Finally, the article nowhere mentions oppression of the Uighurs, their culture or their religion, or that Isa is a human rights and democracy activist.
Painting a picture of Isa based solely on Beijing’s version of reality flouts journalistic ethics. It is clear that the magazine was more concerned with selling drama than with accuracy in reporting or the public good.
But what about the NIA? As an arm of government, its actions carry weight and are thus of greater concern. It, too, mentioned the ETLO and said Taiwan considered it a terrorist organization. But when pressed for the source of its intelligence, the only response was “a friendly country.”
The NIA’s move is alarming — whether it was a panicked reaction to Next Magazine’s claim that potential terrorists had slipped into the country or a calculated response to pressure from Beijing.
If the immigration authority is so easily manipulated, problems will not likely end here. China’s list of “terrorists” is long, and Taiwan is a hub for activities organized by Chinese dissidents in exile.
While it is unlikely that the NIA would risk barring the best known of these, such as the Dalai Lama and Kadeer, from entering Taiwan, others may have a hard time given the NIA’s conduct to date — even if the allegations are as unconvincing as those against Isa.
“But why would I attack Taiwan?” Isa wondered over the phone. “Taiwanese NGOs and Uighur NGOs work together. We view Taiwan as a model of democracy and learn a lot from it ... Taiwan has given us big moral support.”
Next Magazine’s “sources” say Uighur activists may be angry because of cross-strait detente and because of a visit by Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) to China in May to promote the World Games.
Isa’s response? “I’ve never heard of this person Chen Chu.”
Sounding thoroughly frustrated, he added: “What if I do need to come to Taiwan now for some reason? Does this mean they won’t let me in?”
Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a writer based in Taipei.
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