Uyghur freedom fighter Rebiya Kadeer given Free Spirit Award 2018

Rebiya Kadeer in a photo taken in 2007.

Rebiya Kadeer in a photo taken in 2007. File photo/Getty Images/Ullstein Bild

Tibet Sun Newsroom

McLEOD GANJ, India, 20 May 2019

Prominent Uyghur freedom fighter Rebiya Kadeer has been named the recipient of the Free Spirit Award 2018 during an event in McLeod Ganj.

The organisers said that she has been given the award for her outstanding contributions towards bringing freedom and peace for the people of East Turkistan.

Speaking to journalists during a press conference in McLeod Ganj, Lobsang Wangyal, the chief of the organisation that started the award, said, “Close to two million Uyghurs are believed to be held in internment camps. The authorities call them ‘re-education through labour camps’, but victims say the reality is forced indoctrination for Uyghurs held in alarming conditions.”

Human rights groups are calling it the largest mass incarceration of the 21st century. In the Chinese province of Xinjiang, houses, streets and sometimes entire villages have been emptied of their inhabitants. Accused of religious extremism, they are sent to “re-education through labour camps” or “vocational training” centres, as the authorities call them, without any form of trial.

According UN experts, more than one million Uyghur citizens are held in these camps, which are in reality huge prisons. Detainees are reportedly tortured and brainwashed by the Communist Party.

The official Chinese name for the region in the northeast China inhabited by members of a Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority, is called Xinjiang — meaning “new frontier” in Chinese — but the natives call it East Turkistan. It was brought under the control of the Communist Party of China in 1949.

In the name of “fighting terrorism” — attacks blamed on Uyghurs have killed hundreds in recent years — China has turned the whole of East Turkistan province into a gigantic police state. Surveillance cameras are everywhere: at the entrance to schools, supermarkets or even train stations. The police and army patrol the whole territory. Searches and identity checks are systematic.

Living in exile in Washington DC, Rebiya Kadeer is among the most active overseas Uyghur leaders campaigning against Beijing’s oppression of the people in East Turkistan. In 1999 when she lived in China, the Chinese government sentenced her to eight years in prison on charges of “passing on classified information to foreigners”, but due to pressure from the US and human rights groups, China released her in 2005, and put her on a plane to the US to join her family.

She has led organisations such as the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur American Association. Beijing accuses Kadeer of organising violent activities in East Turkistan. “Their accusations are completely false,” Kadeer had told journalists.

The Free Spirit Award was started in 2003 to honour those people working for peace and justice, social, and environmental issues around the world. The annual award is marked by presentation of a certificate with an inscription summing up the work of the distinguished receiver.

Wangyal said during the announcement that it is important to stand in support and solidarity with those Uyghurs suffering in their own land, and to speak up for them to call on China to set the Uyghurs free.

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