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Biographic Sketch & Links: Dennis P. Halpin
with written permission to ICAS of Dennis P. Halpin. sjk]
From: Dennis P. Halpin and Hans Hogrefe
Date: October 30, 2006
Findings of Staff Delegation Visit to Urumqi, PRC, May 30-June 2, 2006
RE: Incidents Involving the Family of Rebiya Kadeer, advocate for Uyghur minority rights
This report has been drafted in response to a number of inquiries that the Committee on International Relations has received, both from other Congressional offices and the NGO community, regarding the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of a portion of an International Relations Committee staff delegation visit to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China in May and June 2006.
Dennis P. Halpin, professional staff of the House International Relations Committee (HIRC -Majority), and Hans Hogrefe, Staff Director, Congressional Human Rights Caucus (HIRC - Minority) traveled on official business to Beijing and Urumqi from May 26 to June 5, 2006. The purpose of this trip was to discuss certain trade issues, diplomatic issues, UN issues, regional relations, human rights questions and American citizen emergency cases with staff at the American Embassy and with the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing and to examine the current human rights situation, education, health and cultural issues, media/internet issues, state of minority rights, energy issues, and counterterrorism concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China.
Staff met with area experts for briefings prior to the commencement of the trip. One of those meetings was with Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and leading advocate for Uyghur minority rights. Ms. Kadeer presented her frank assessment of some of the difficulties encountered by the Uyghur minority in western China. Halpin specifically stated to Ms. Kadeer during this meeting that, due to the sensitivity of the situation, there was no intention to attempt to make direct contact with her remaining children in Urumqi during the visit there.
The visit to Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous Prefecture (May 30-June 2), was undertaken at the invitation of the National People's Congress (NPC), and representatives of the NPC accompanied the staff delegation during the visit. In addition, two officers from the American Embassy in Beijing, Mr. Eric Richardson, the Political Section's human rights officer, and Ms. Caroline Katzin, Special Assistant to the Ambassador, accompanied the delegation. The original staff delegation schedule included a proposed visit to the city of Kashgar, a center of traditional Uyghur culture located near the Pakistani border. Official meetings with local officials in Kashgar had been scheduled.
The trip to Kashgar, however, was suddenly cancelled by Congressional staff due to actions taken by local authorities against the children of Ms. Kadeer. The timing of these official actions coincided exactly with the staff delegation visit to this region, an area of particular sensitivity to the Chinese Government. Given the proximity of this region of China to volatile areas of south and central Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, the religious and cultural influence of Islam, and the different ethnicity of the Uyghur minority (a people of Turkic background rather than Han Chinese), Beijing has long feared irredentist influences from adjacent Central Asian Islamic nations and neighbors with similar ethnic and religious traditions.
The designation by the United States, following the September 11, 2001 attacks, of a Uyghur organization, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist organization, was a welcomed development in Beijing and was perceived as a key determinant in soliciting Beijing's cooperation in the war on terrorism. This development, however, has heightened both Congressional concerns, and those of the human rights NGO community, that Beijing has utilized this terrorist designation to discourage comprehensive discussion of the suppression of the cultural and religious rights of the Uyghur minority in western China. Branding all Uyghur political, religious and cultural activism with the label of "Islamic terrorism" has served as a convenient means for Beijing to dismiss discussion of Uyghur minority rights, in marked contrast to the vigorous international dialogue concerning the rights of the Tibetan minority.
The primary objective of the Congressional staff delegation visit to Xinjiang was to probe into these issues further. The harsh treatment administered by officials to the children of Rebiya Kadeer at the time of the staff delegation visit can only serve to reinforce perceptions in the Congress that there is a grave situation regarding minority rights in Xinjiang similar to what has been observed in Tibet. (Seventy-two Members of the House of Representatives expressed their grave concern over the arrests and brutal treatment of Ms. Kadeer's children in a July 26, 2006 letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao.) The successful propaganda campaign by Beijing of painting legitimate Uyghur aspirations as terrorism has left Rebiya Kadeer as the sole major voice for the Uyghur people in the international community. The treatment of her children only reinforces the perception that Beijing fears that Ms. Kadeer is emerging as a Dalai Lama figure for the Uyghur people on the international stage.
This leads to the inevitable conclusion that the detentions and beatings of her family members were directly connected to the visit of staff from the U.S. House of Representatives. This conclusion is further reinforced by the fact that Ms. Kadeer herself was detained by local authorities in August 1999 as she was entering a hotel to meet with a member of the staff of the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Ms. Kadeer was charged with "providing state secrets to foreigners" - even though the documents in her possession were newspaper articles which were publicly available. Ms. Kadeer was tried in secret and sentenced in March 2000 to eight years' imprisonment, a sentence which was later reduced by one year. In March 2005, Ms. Kadeer was released and allowed to travel to the United States.
This followed a pattern of "hostage diplomacy" as Ms. Kadeer's release immediately preceded the first visit to Beijing of the new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Kadeer's release was also followed immediately by an announcement from Washington that the United States would not pursue a resolution concerning China's human rights violations at the (former) UN Human Rights Commission's annual meeting in Geneva, as the United States had done the year before. While both sides denied a quid pro quo, the timing of events left the impression that a deal for Ms. Kadeer's release had been struck. A number of Ms. Kadeer's family members remained in China following her release and some of them were involved in managing her remaining business interests.
The circumstances of what occurred to Ms. Kadeer's family members during the staff delegation visit are as follows:
Ms. Kadeer was warned by Chinese authorities at the time of her release from incarceration and exile to the United States in March 2005 not to become an advocate for Uyghur rights in the United States or her family in China would suffer the consequences. Despite these warnings, Ms. Kadeer appeared several times before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and gave testimony, as well as at a hearing conducted by the International Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations.
Unknown at the time, some days prior to the staff delegation visit to Urumqi, Ms. Kadeer's family members residing in Urumqi were approached by security forces and warned not to have any contact with the upcoming Congressional staff delegation during its visit. Initial discussions with Embassy Beijing underlined the sensitive circumstances of the Kadeer family, confirming the delegation's decision not to request from our Chinese hosts a meeting with any family members.
On the day before the arrival of the staff delegation in Urumqi on Tuesday evening, May 30, 2006, three of Ms. Kadeer's children, her sons Ablikim and Alim Abdiriyim and her daughter Rushangul, were taken into police custody, apparently to prevent contact with the delegation. Late on the evening of May 30, Hans Holgrefe received a call on his cell phone from the United States reliably informing him of the detention of Ms. Kadeer's children. He immediately raised the grave concerns over this action with the representatives of the National People's Congress (NPC) and indicated that this could affect the delegation's schedule. After initial denials by the Chinese hosts, who were seemingly unaware of this situation, the delegation was informed the next morning by Uyghur sources in the U.S. that Ms. Kadeer's three children had been released from detention, but were put under house arrest, with a heavy, permanent police presence on the premises. According to this information, the police forces acted in an extremely hostile manner toward Ms. Kadeer's sons and daughter, as well as her grandchildren, and had severely threatened them with what would happen to them once the U.S. delegation had left. There was still no official confirmation of the exact circumstances of the family members. A phone call placed to a number reported as being for Ablikim was answered by a person responding in broken English "Thank you, America" and "Help!" It is unclear if this person was Ablikim.
Mr. Hogrefe then informed the NPC representatives that, due to the detention, he felt it necessary to request a formal meeting with Ms. Kadeer's children, to determine the situation while the delegation was in Urumqi , unless they were verifiably released from any form of detention. The NPC representatives appeared unnerved by this request. Surveillance of the delegation was immediately heightened, with a Public Security Bureau (PSB) vehicle even following delegation members when they met in the hotel parking lot to discuss the situation with the American Embassy's human rights officer. Local authorities appeared quite agitated over the possibility that delegation members might attempt a surreptitious meeting with Kadeer family members, although this was not our intention. With this request pending, the delegation proceeded with its scheduled meetings with local officials in Urumqi.
On Thursday morning, June 1, while the delegation was visiting the Xinjiang People's Publishing House to discuss minority language publications with the staff, Mr. Hogrefe received a further cell phone call from the United States indicating that security officials had told Ms. Kadeer's family members to board a waiting minibus. Her two sons and one daughter, along with other family members, boarded the bus and were driven to an isolated location outside the regional capital of Urumqi. Seven police cars reportedly arrived. Ablikim and Alim were dragged off the bus and severely beaten by the police as four of Ms. Kadeer's grandchildren watched. Ablikim was reportedly so severely beaten that he had to be taken to a hospital. Ms. Kadeer's daughter Rushangul was told to call her mother on her cell phone, so that she could hear the screams of her children. Upon being informed of this, Mr. Hogrefe informed the National People's Congress that, given the disturbing news and unjustifiable actions taken, he would be terminating his visit to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. He asked arrangements be made for him to travel to Beijing as soon as possible. He asked the United States Embassy to arrange his onward travel back to Washington. Mr. Halpin informed the representatives of the National People's Congress that the staff delegation visit could only proceed if the family members of Ms. Kadeer were immediately released. He informed the NPC hosts that he would not be flying to Kashgar that evening as originally scheduled.
The NPC hosts spoke separately with Halpin on the bus outside of the Norgay mosque which the delegation was visiting that afternoon as part of its survey of religious and cultural issues in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The NPC hosts suggested that the U.S. delegation included a "splittist" who was causing disharmony. They further suggested that Halpin should go forward with the schedule as planned for the sake of friendly bilateral relations. Halpin responded that his ultimate responsibility was to the International Relations Committee Chairman, Henry Hyde, and he would act accordingly - as Chairman Hyde would expect.
The NPC informed Mr. Hogrefe that he could leave for Beijing on the morning of June 2, with the American Embassy's human rights officer, Eric Richardson. Mr. Halpin and Ms. Katzin could proceed to Kasghar the next morning if the Kadeer issue were resolved. At midnight, delegation members were suddenly awakened and summoned to the hotel conference room. There the Chinese hosts read an official statement which suggested that the Congressional staff delegation had engaged in "interference in the internal affairs of China" and should desist from doing so. The Chinese hosts also stated that the Congressional staff delegation should assume full responsibility for the failure of the delegation to proceed to Kashgar as planned and for any ensuing disharmony in relations between the U.S. Congress and the National People's Congress. Mr. Hogrefe repeated Congressional concern, and those of Mr. Lantos, over the gross human rights violations represented by the beatings and detention of Ms. Kadeer's children and repeated his determination to depart China as soon as possible. Mr. Halpin stated that Chairman Hyde had sent him to China to ask the Foreign Ministry to release a number of American citizens and prisoners of conscience and now, instead of telling the Chairman he had succeeded in his mission, he must report that the visit had resulted in more people being detained rather than released. Halpin stated his own intention to return to Beijing with Mr. Hogrefe in the morning.
The staff delegation returned to Beijing by air on Friday morning, June 2, 2006, with the NPC hosts. On the way to Urumqi Airport, the NPC hosts provided the delegation with copies of a local newspaper which stated that Ms. Kadeer's sons, Ablikim and Alim Abdiriyim, had been incarcerated and formally charged with tax evasion. (Ms. Kadeer's daughter, Rushangul, remained under house arrest.) It appeared that Chinese authorities wished to ensure that the Congressional staff delegation was fully aware that they had not been swayed by objections concerning what had transpired. It also was a likely indication that the hard-line Secretary of the Communist Party in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Wang Lequan, who reportedly has a personal vendetta against Ms. Kadeer and her family, wanted to present Beijing with a fait accompli - published formal charges against Ms. Kadeer's children. This would assure that there would be no backtracking on the actions taken due to official American pressure.
Mr. Hogrefe took a connecting flight in Beijing and immediately returned to the United States. Mr. Halpin had meetings scheduled at the American Embassy regarding the continued detention of a U.S. citizen so he remained in Beijing to attend these meetings.
Postscript: A third son of Ms. Kadeer, Kahar Abdureyim, was arrested a few days after the delegation departed Urumqi. All three of Ms. Kadeer's sons, Kahar, Ablikim Abdureyim, and Alim Abdureyim, remain in detention while her daughter, Rushangul, remains under house arrest. Judicial proceedings are being carried forward in the Chinese courts, with a credible NGO report of torture to extract a confession in the case of at least one of the sons. A verdict is expected in the near future.
How deeply concerned the Beijing Government is over the perceived threat of this one woman, Rebiya Kadeer, to Chinese absolute control of Xinjiang was confirmed by a September 22, 2006 press report in Oslo. The Oslo Daily Aftenposten reported that "Chinese authorities have warned Norway that relations between the two countries would suffer if Norway awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese human rights activist Rebiya Kadeer...The Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui told members of a Norwegian Foreign Ministry delegation in Beijing Thursday that the relationship of the two countries would 'be damaged' if the Chinese human rights activist was awarded the prize. State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry Raymond Johansen said Friday that the Chinese threat was 'totally unacceptable and inappropriate.' The Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee was completely independent of the government, he said." Norwegian media compared the Chinese attitude to the prize with that of the Nazis to the decision to award the prize to Carl von Ossietzy (a German pacifist) in 1935. In that case, Nazi threats were unable to prevent Oslo from awarding the prize.