The US badgered China for three years to free Rebiya Kadeer, a wealthy member of that country's Muslim minority who was arrested ostensibly for sending Chinese newspapers to her husband in the US.
She finally was released last week, and Kadeer said Wednesday the real story of her arrest had more to do with documents she was carrying that night in 1999 to a meeting with staff members of the US Congressional Research Service.
The papers outlined human rights and other alleged Chinese abuses of Kadeer's Uighur people. The Uighurs are Muslims who live mostly in Xinjiang province in western China and are ethnically related to the peoples of Central Asia, not China.
"One was an appeal, a call for help basically, to the American people," the 58-year-old Kadeer said in an interview. "It contained human rights problems, issues that the Uighur people were facing and that we needed help with."
Another document she had, Kadeer said, "was a list of political prisoners who were on death sentence."
In the Washington headquarters of Amnesty International USA, the petite woman who spent five years in prison sat erect wearing an off-white coat, her black hair streaked with gray, her folded glasses in her hand. She smiled often.
The fact that Kadeer was involved with US congressional researchers made her case a priority for US officials. Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell pleaded her case, and Condoleezza Rice was due in Beijing within days of her release last Thursday.
Her name was on a list of political prisoners the US had presented to China. Congress had passed resolutions on her behalf. The US ambassador to Beijing, Clark Randt, cited her repeatedly in speeches about human rights.
Before her arrest, the Chinese government had used the businesswoman's success as a showcase of the country's openness. The government accused Kadeer of violating national security but has given no specifics except that she sent newspapers abroad to her husband.
In Wednesday's interview with reporters, Kadeer's daughter, Akida Rouzi, who acted as interpreter, said the family knew no specifics of why her mother had been arrested until her release was announced minutes after the State Department had said in Washington it would not introduce a resolution to denounce China's rights record before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
Rouzi said the family knew that her mother must have been carrying something, "but we didn't know for a fact what she was carrying and what the content of the letter was."
Kadeer said it wasn't only the family that kept silent but her captors as well.
"The Chinese also kept it quiet ... because they didn't want other people to find out about their human rights problems," she said through her daughter.
"Basically the reason they arrested me to shut me up in the first place was because they don't really want to release that information."
Kadeer and her husband, an activist for Xinjiang's Muslims in the US, laughed when Rouzi translated a question about the Chinese government's accusation that she is trying to create an Islamic state in the province.
"It was never about religion for her. Islam's not the case," Rouzi translated. "She is one of those people that believes state and religion should be separate. She never even like really tried to overthrow the government in that sense.
"Yes, she's Muslim. She of course respects Islam and such, but her wishes, her dreams were to bring human rights, freedom to our people."
Kadeer told of a company she created, "The Thousand Mothers Movement," in which she sought out traditionalist Muslim women who largely kept to their houses and wore Islamic veils and taught them how to use money they had squirreled away to bring profits for themselves and their communities.
"The stay-at-home women actually walked out and made a decent living and supported the people around them. That was the main purpose," Rouzi said. "The Chinese, the government, put a stop to it, of course. They don't want that because it was making the Uighur people love her."
During the period she was accepted by the government, Kadeer kept a large profile. She was a delegate to the 1995 Women's Conference sponsored by the UN in Beijing and even became a government official.
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