A special unit of the Italian police (DIGOS) detained Dolkun Isa, a leading exiled Uyghur figure, in Rome on Wednesday at the request of Interpol upon notification by the Chinese government. China’s Deputy Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei currently is Interpol’s chief. Isa was stopped before in New York, South Korea, Turkey and Switzerland. Germany, on the other hand, granted him citizenship.
Rome (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Dolkun Isa, a top exiled Uyghur leader, was detained on Wednesday, 26 July, at the request of the Chinese government, by a special unit of the Italian police. He was set to speak about restrictions imposed on his people, under pressure from the Chinese state, at a press conference at the Italian Senate in Rome.
At around 11:45 am, Mr Isa, who is the general secretary of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), was approached by 15 to 20 plainclothes members of the General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS) as he walked with colleagues towards the Italian Senate, he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The officers, holding Isa’s picture, stopped him at the entrance of the Senate building and asked him to go with them to police headquarters (Questura), he said.
Isa informed the officers that he was due to speak at a noon press conference at the senate building co-organised by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) and Italy’s Nonviolent Radical Party, hosted by Italian Senator Luigi Compagna, but the officers loaded him into a car and took him away.
While en route to the station, Isa, who is a German national, informed his German lawyer and the German authorities of his detention by mobile phone.
The DIGOS checked Isa’s ID, took his picture and fingerprints, and eventually released him after 3:00 pm, saying they would run his information against a database with the International Police Organisation (Interpol), an intergovernmental organisation that facilitates global police cooperation.
When Isa demanded to know why he had been detained, the DIGOS officers informed him that they had acted on a request from China, which routinely objects to political activities by exiled ethnic Uyghurs who left their traditional homeland in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
Interpol had issued an international alert on Isa several years ago based on what he called a “politically motivated and baseless request” by the Chinese government, and the alert was later rejected by German authorities, who viewed it as a “political warrant,” he told the DIGOS officers.
In November last year, China’s Deputy Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei was elected Interpol president, Isa told the officers, and asking Interpol to run a check on his background “is like asking the Chinese government” to do it.
Isa told RFA after his release that he was treated well whilst in custody and expressed gratitude to the German government for its intervention in his detention. He also thanked members of the Italian Senate, the Nonviolent Radical Party, the UNPO and the WUC for their concern. However, he condemned what he called the “nefarious influence of the Chinese government” on democratic Europe and said it must stop.
Speaking about the issue, Italian Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Pier Ferdinando Casini said that "This is an initiative of individual parliamentarians opposed to the strong, loyal relationship between Italy and China, as evidenced by the recent visits to Beijing of top state officials in Italy".
“[Nations of] the free world should not allow China to interfere in their internal affairs and let China use Interpol as an instrument to achieve its illegitimate objectives,” he said.
“China can never silence my voice or stop my peaceful human rights activism on behalf of the long-suffering Uyghur people in East Turkestan,” he added, referring to the name of a short-lived Uyghur republic that the Chinese government now administers as Xinjiang.
“I know China will continue to demonise me and attempt to prevent me from speaking out about its crimes committed against the peace-loving Uyghur people . . . but I will not stop until the Uyghurs can enjoy democracy and freedom.”
Isa’s run-in with the las is nothing new. His detention in Italy comes less than three months after he was removed from a United Nations forum in New York by security guards without explanation. The Uyghur leader was also stopped in the past by South Korea, Turkey, and Switzerland.
The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority (who once were the majority in Xinjiang) that China has tried to overwhelm by sending Chinese Han settlers in the region.
Now Beijing is trying to gain international support against “Uyghur terrorism" because some Uyghurs (a few hundred according to the most credible sources) have joined the ranks of the Islamic State group. However, the WUC has little to do with these groups.
In addition, Dolkun Isa has a German passport. So, it is rather an abnormal case considering his status as a citizen of the European Union.
Italian Radical Party member Maurizio Turco told Italian Communist daily Il Manifesto that Isa’s press conference was to be held in the Senate building, but Speaker Pietro Grasso moved it to another site.
"Not a few have tried to stay away from this event, over-zealous perhaps towards China, which is increasingly able to apply its own ‘soft power’ even from afar," he noted.
"It is clear that this ridiculous and disconcerting episode was inspired by Beijing ‘s increasingly aggressive diplomacy,” he added. “Only three weeks ago, the Italian Interior Ministry denied a visa to three Tibetan monks who wanted to travel to their monastery in Pomaia, Tuscany, to attend a Tibetan Festival."
Dolkun Isa is third on China’s black list of Uyghurs expats. During the press conference at the Italian Radical Party headquarters, he explained that he has never owned a weapon in his life and that he has seen terrorist actions only in movies.
Certainly, things are not much better for Uyghurs at home. The authorities in Xinjiang, northwestern China, have prevented Muslim Uyghurs from fasting and praying during the sacred month of Ramadan, sending Chinese officials from house to house to check.
Since 15 July, it is compulsory for all Uyghurs to install an application on mobile phones that allows the authorities to monitor their communications.