We demand referendum, we are not terrorists: World Uighur Congress’ Dolkun Isa

Uighurs have again come to the limelight after Malyasia Airlines flight MH370 went missing. Earlier this month, the same ethnic group was blamed by the Chinese government for the ghastly Kunming attack. Dolkun Isa, the Executive Chairman of World Uighur Congress clears the air about Uighurs in a conversation with Namta Gupta.

Q. There are apprehensions about the missing Malyasian flight and people feel that Uighur extremists could be behind this. What do you have to say to that?

A. It is the Chinese government which tried to draw some connection between the missing flight and the Uighurs. The Uighur guy who was on the flight was actually a painter who went to Malaysia with the Chinese delegation. So, there would be information about him. Uighurs have no link with this incident but the Chinese government immediately tried to connect Uighurs with this. And this is not a new thing; the Chinese government has used war against terrorism for Uighur suppression and even the then US President George W Bush warned China against this. Let me mention a point here; before 9/11, the Chinese government had branded all activities as separatist or religious extremism but post that incident, the Chinese government changed its strategy and labeled us as terrorists. All international organizations have spoken against this but China always tried to link Uighurs with international terrorism.

Q. So, you do not believe that Uighurs have any relations with international terrorists?

A. No, I don’t believe it; we believe in peaceful and non-violent activities in World Uighur Congress (WUC), and we will always struggle through peaceful measures on international platforms. But the Chinese government has accused WUC of terrorist activities and tried to stop our lobbying several times.

Q. But after the Kunming attack this month, don’t you think that growing radicalization of Uighurs should be addressed?

A. It is the Chinese government that is accusing Uighurs for this attack, but till now they have not presented any evidence. Kunming central train station is monitored by the authorities and by the police, but when this attack happened there were no policemen. Isn’t it surprising?

Q. So you don’t believe that it was done by Uighurs?

A. No, because there had to be a video recording of the attack and now it is close to a month and still they have not released any footage of the attack.

Q. But Abdullah Mansoor of Turkestan Islamic Party has openly stated that China is the number one enemy of not just Uighurs but of all Muslims. In fact, he even said that the Kunming attack was right. Does this not suggest that the movement for a homeland of Uighurs is finally taking a violent direction and there is a growing radicalization among them?

A. Any kind of activity is a terrorist activity in China. If someone is speaking then that is terrorist activity; if someone is peacefully gathering, then that is a terrorist activity; demonstrations too are terrorist activity. In 2013, several peaceful agitations took place and several hundreds were killed, but as per the Chinese government that is not terrorism.

Q. And what about WUC’s connection with Abdullah Mansoor of Turkestan Islamic Party?

A. We have no connection with them. Our movement is completely non-violent.

Q. What is the basic demand of Uighurs?

A. Uighur people want freedom. Our future should not be determined by the Chinese Communist Party but by the Uighur people. We personally believe that more than 90 percent Uighur people are not happy with the Chinese policies but we say that okay, let there be some international organization present and let there be a referendum. And let the Uighurs decide their future. Uighurs must decide what they want.

Q. But post Kunming attack, don’t you think your case has become weak? People would be apprehensive when they see your activities in the light of the Kunming attack.

A. That is what we are saying. It is the Chinese government which always tries to establish some kind of connection between terrorists and Uighurs and makes our struggle weak on international forums. And the World Congress of Uighurs strongly condemns all violence. But it is the Chinese government that uses violence. If someone holds just one demonstration the government calls it terrorism; if someone writes some article then the government calls it terrorism propaganda. And it is because of this that revenge killings happen. For example, Uighur language is the official language but in reality, in kindergarten and in universities it is Chinese language that is taught. We don’t even have the right to teach in our own language and also, this is against the Chinese Constitution. The Chinese Constitution provides for freedom of religion, but this is just on papers.

Q. Have you got any help from Islamic countries in regard to your situation?

A. No. No Islamic country has supported us. The Chinese government talks to Islamic countries and says that we have Uighur Muslim minorities, just to mention that Uighurs are Muslims and to get benefit from Muslim countries. And then, when Chinese government talks to other countries then it says, that look Uighurs are Muslims and they are terrorists. China shows one face to Muslim countries and another to other countries.

Q. Have you tried communicating with the Chinese government on these issues?

A. Yes, we have called them for a dialogue several times. The Chinese government must review its policies and should talk so that the problem can be solved. But now, China is a big power and a huge market and is very aggressive and that harms our mission.

Q. What would you like to say to the international community?

A. We only request the international community to pressurise the Chinese government to follow Constitution and respect cultural and religious rights. Global organizations should look at the situation and tell the Chinese government to correct the course. Even Tibetans and Chinese people face these issues. Uighurs` human rights and religious rights must be respected.