Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Uighur Nobel nominee still feels like a prisoner


Twenty months after stepping out of prison, freedom remains elusive for Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled leader of China's Uighur Muslim minority and a top Asian nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

With approximately 100,000 Uighurs -- including her three sons -- languishing in jail for their political and religious beliefs, the 58-year-old grandmother says she remains a prisoner within herself.

"How can I enjoy freedom when my people, including my children, continue to be persecuted and jailed by the Chinese authorities and face a very hopeless and desperate future," the Nobel Prize nominee asked in an interview in Washington.

But she said her nomination for the highly prestigious Nobel award to be announced this week was a recognition of the plight of Uighurs, the largest and overwhelmingly Muslim ethnic group in China's Xinjiang region.

Winning the award, however, is not paramount, Kadeer said, speaking from her office on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"My nomination itself is a recognition of the plight of the Uighurs and a timely reminder to the world of the human rights abuses our people endure," said the mother of 11, wearing a traditional maroon Uighur cap as her greying hair plaits rest on each shoulder.

Kadeer is among 191 potential Nobel laureates, including another Asian frontrunner -- Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono -- who was nominated for his role in talks leading to the Aceh peace agreement in August last year.

Kadeer was nominated by a Swedish parliamentarian for "championing" Uighur rights and for being "one of China's most prominent advocates of women's rights."

"When I received news of my nomination, I was as excited as when I was released from the Chinese prison. It was, I remember, the same feeling," Kadeer said.

"Even those little shoeshiners on the streets of my homeland were very excited because they believed their destiny will change," she added.

Since her release in March last year -- after a six-year sentence -- Kadeer, a millionaire businesswoman in Xinjiang, has seen unending troubles.

Her businesses, a source of training and employment for fellow Uighurs, have come under constant harassment from the authorities and are on the verge of collapse.

Her sons who helped run the establishments were allegedly beaten and thrown in jail. One of her daughters is under house arrest.

Perhaps, Kadeer says, when the Chinese government released her from prison, "they expected me to just go home, cook and live like a housewife.

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