Chinese Government Releases Uighur Businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer

January 10, 2006

On March 17, Chinese authorities released Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent Uighur businesswoman and civic leader, on medical parole. She gained her freedom some 17 months before her sentence was to end and shortly before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to visit Beijing. U.S. diplomats accompanied Kadeer on a flight to the United States, where she will join her family and receive medical treatment.

Rebiya Kadeer’s case has long been a significant irritant in U.S.-China bilateral diplomatic relations. The Chinese government had promised several times in the past to release Ms. Kadeer, but informed sources say that internal conflict between Xinjiang government and Communist Party authorities and central government officials prevented her release.

Public security forces detained Kadeer in 1999 while she was en route to a meeting with a U.S. Congressional staff delegation. After a secret trial, a court sentenced her to eight years in prison for "unlawfully supplying state secrets or intelligence to entities outside China," a crime under Article 111 of China's Criminal Law. The written verdict describes these "state secrets or intelligence" as news clippings from publicly available newspapers in Xinjiang that she had mailed to her husband in the United States.

Kadeer’s 1999 arrest came during a nationwide "Strike Hard Campaign" against crime. In Xinjiang, the campaign specifically targeted "ethnic splittists" and "illegal religious forces." Human rights groups report "hundreds of thousands of arrests" during the campaign, which exacerbated tensions between minorities and the government.