The following remarks were delivered by Dolkun Isa, Executive Chairman of the World Uyghur Congress, on March 30, 2016 in Washington, DC.
It is a true distinction to be here today. I want to thank the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation for this recognition of my life’s work and for continually remembering the suffering of the Uyghur people under Chinese communist rule.
I have the humbling privilege to share the honor of being recognized by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation with a distinguished line of individuals who embody integrity, truth, and justice in the face of crushing totalitarianism.
One of those individuals, Pope John Paul II, once said, communism “fell as a consequence of its own mistakes and abuses” and that it had “become a powerful threat and challenge to the entire world.”
The Uyghur people are among the millions of victims of communism’s abuses. Eastern Europeans were too, and are rebuilding their nations under democratic systems; however, the captured nations of China still brave the injustices of communist rule. Chinese communism still endures to challenge world peace from the militarization of the South China Sea to the arming of brutal dictators.
In our overlooked struggle, the Uyghur people stand firmly with the democratic peoples of the world who seek a conclusive end to the poverty and cruelty of communist repression. This honor not only shines a light on the Uyghurs’ resistance to communism, but also clearly states we will not stop our work until we consign this destructive ideology, in the words of Ronald Reagan, to “the ash heap of history.”
My role in this work began when I was a student at Xinjiang University. In 1985, I protested China’s devastating nuclear testing program in East Turkistan, and in 1987, several friends and I formed the Student Association for Science–Culture. We encouraged Uyghur students to engage in outreach activities across East Turkistan. We wanted to spread the word of cultural and scientific progress among our people, but the communist authorities were threatened by a grassroots mobilization of Uyghur people and forced us to end our activities.
On June 15, 1988, I helped organize a protest calling for equal rights. From that day, I was placed under house arrest. In September 1988, while in my final year of study, I was expelled from Xinjiang University as a result of my part in the demonstration. My right to an education was taken away because I demanded justice and challenged discriminatory policies. Large numbers of Uyghur students who attended the rally were later sent to remote areas upon completion of their studies and are still being victimized by the Chinese communist regime.
This injustice set in motion a chain of events that led me to the free world and eventually to my work with the World Uyghur Congress, which advocates for the freedom of the Uyghur people. However, China is unending in its persecution and aims to silence human rights activists including those overseas. Today, the Chinese government sees me as a “terrorist,” and the government has issued a warrant for me through Interpol. As a result, I have been arrested or refused entry in countries vulnerable to Chinese pressure.
These accusations are made to discredit my work. I firmly advocate for a peaceful resolution to the Uyghur issue and reject violence—and this threatens China. The Uyghurs are a people of peace and development. They refuse the ideologies of extremists that threaten the welfare of humanity. These principles make the Uyghur issue not a Uyghur problem, but a Chinese government problem, a condition generated by systematic denial of fundamental human rights and freedoms to Uyghurs. Concerned people should not yield to Chinese narratives that deflect scrutiny of its record in East Turkestan.
It is not surprising that Chinese officials work hard to conceal events in East Turkestan as the Uyghur people face gross human rights violations on a daily basis. A number of agencies have detailed a broad range of rights concerns regarding Uyghurs, including: enforced disappearances; jailing of political dissidents, journalists, and webmasters; repression of independent religious leaders; forced abortions; destruction of cultural heritage; restrictions of movement and formidable obstacles in obtaining a passport; tight controls on freedom of expression, particularly on the internet; marginalization of the Uyghur language in education and society; pressures exerted on foreign governments to refuse refugees; targeted surveillance; and suppression of non-state sanctioned religious association and assembly.
Although I am physically free from the pressures and threats of the Chinese communists, my soul is weighed down by the suffering of my fellow Uyghurs still forced to live under the discriminatory policies of the autocrats in Beijing.
Many of these policies have been enacted under the guise of anti-extremism and counter-terrorism campaigns. Laws prohibit normal religious practice at home or wearing clothing tied to one’s own culture—both are now regarded as extremist. The collective punishment of the entire Uyghur community in East Turkestan continues, leading to a climate of fear and helplessness.
Underlying all of these restrictive policies is the Chinese Communist Party that wishes to assimilate the entire population, but Uyghur communities have been resistant. Examples in the past reinforce this. The Soviet Union’s attempt to assimilate populations under their control led only to a strengthening of culture in opposition to the central government. In China, the same is true. Attempts to eliminate practices that are fundamental to Uyghur culture will not succeed and have already strengthened the feeling in many Uyghurs that their culture must now be held on to even more tightly.
Assimilation is not the answer to the current conflict in East Turkestan. It is one of the fundamental abuses Pope John Paul II mentioned. It will continue to foster resentment between Uyghur and Chinese communities.
I want to express my deep admiration to Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation for its recognition of the dire conditions faced by Uyghurs. In a time when China’s economic prowess is increasingly silencing criticism of the Chinese government, even in democracies, this strong statement of support counts more than ever. The honor of accepting this award is a further expression of solidarity with the Uyghur people and on behalf of all Uyghurs I extend our friendship in return.
Read more about the Uyghur struggle in China here.