By Rebiya Kadeer
The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 1, 2008; Page A1
The world has watched in horror recently as Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople engaged in peaceful demonstrations have been met with brutality by the Chinese People’s Armed Police. Tibet‘s descent into chaos and violence is heartbreaking. As has been made clear by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has dedicated his life to peacefully promoting the Tibetan people’s legitimate aspirations for cultural autonomy and survival, lasting peace and meaningful change must be achieved through nonviolent means.
In watching recent coverage of the demonstrations in Tibet and their bloody aftermath, I have been reminded of a turning point in my own life, the moment I decided I had no choice but to speak out against the Chinese government’s policy of cultural destruction and its human rights abuses. It was a decision that led to six years in a Chinese prison and then to exile in the United States. Two of my sons are serving lengthy prison sentences in East Turkestan in retaliation for my human rights advocacy.
In February 1997, thousands of Uighurs demanding equality, religious freedom and an end to repression by the government peacefully protested in the Ghulja region of East Turkestan, an area designated the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region by the Chinese government. Armed paramilitary police confronted the unarmed demonstrators and bystanders, killing dozens on the spot, including women and young children. In the aftermath of the protest, thousands of Uighurs were detained on suspicion of participating in the demonstration. Tragically, hundreds of Uighurs were executed.
Just as I grieved with and for the families of the Uighurs killed in the Ghulja massacre, I grieve for the families of peaceful Tibetan demonstrators who have been killed or detained by Chinese police, perhaps never to be seen again. I have seen firsthand the suffering of parents who have lost their sons or daughters to an executioner’s bullet or a dark prison cell.
Because of our shared experience under the Chinese regime, Uighurs stand in solidarity with the Tibetan people and support their legitimate aspirations for genuine autonomy. The Chinese government’s fierce repression of religious expression, its intolerance for any expression of discontent, its discriminatory economic policies and its support for the movement of migrants have linked Tibet and East Turkestan and have led to the tremendous social tensions in both regions. To Beijing, any Tibetan or Uighur who is unhappy with China‘s harsh rule is a “separatist.” Uighurs are also labeled “terrorists.”