03/21/2005, 00.00
CHINA-UNITED STATES
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Put human rights before profit, says freed Muslim dissident

Rebiya Kadeer, an Uighur political dissident released on March 17, is in the US to talk about human rights, economics and Chinese prisons.

Washington (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The world should not put business before human rights in China, Rebiya Kadeer, a recently-released Uighur political prisoner said.

Ms Kadeer, a businesswoman herself, warned the business community against letting economic interests close their hearts.

"These businessmen who have a lot of [deals] in China should look deep into their hearts and see what's truly important—money, business or actually one's life?" she said. "I would give up any business now to save one life. If there are no human rights, business will go nowhere."

The 58-year-old woman said she would use her new freedom to win greater rights for her fellow Muslims, and urged others to "pursue human rights from every angle".

A former executive in a trading company, not to mention a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) for Xinjiang province, she was arrested in 1999 for spreading news abroad that the authorities deemed "state intelligence".

Sentenced to eight years in jail, she was freed on the eve of a visit to Beijing by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just as the US State Department said it would not seek a resolution critical of Beijing at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Upon her release, Ms Kadeer left for the US where she gave several interviews even though Chinese authorities warned her not to speak to the media, reminding her that 6 of her 11 children remained in China. But she could not be silent over her ethnic group's fate.

As a CPPCC member, "I thought I could speak to the government for my people and tell them that their policies toward us were wrong and point out the discrimination and lack of education spending on Uighurs," she said. "Actually, being elevated to the parliamentary position was the beginning of my troubles," she added.

She described harsh prison conditions and said "there's no forgiveness for political prisoners. We can't even look at each other and smile".

Recalling this time, she said that although "prison guards never laid a finger on her", other prisoners were not so lucky. "Some were beaten lame; others were tortured within earshot to frighten her," she said. One 96-year-old Uighur woman was in prison not knowing why.

During her six years detention, she was completely cut off from the outside world. She never heard of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, or of the Iraq war, or that Beijing had won the right to host the 2008 Olympics.

Many of the 8 million Uighurs in Xinjiang, which has an overall population of about 19 million, seek greater autonomy for the region, although some want to restore the brief independence the region had as East Turkistan from 1938 to 1949—a campaign that has drawn a relentless crackdown by Beijing.

Ms Kadeer has never advocated Xinjiang's independence but demands that her people have "basic freedom and human rights. I want them to have a happy life, as the Chinese do."

"There's not enough food or housing for Uighurs, yet they keep moving Chinese migrants from Chinese cities to Xinjiang," she said.

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