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China Frees Muslim Businesswoman Held as Political Prisoner

  • Luis Ramirez

China has released Rebiya Kadeer, a Muslim businesswoman who was imprisoned on charges of endangering state security for mailing newspaper clippings overseas. Mrs. Kadeer's release comes ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to China on Sunday.

Rebiya Kadeer left Beijing Thursday afternoon on a flight bound for the United States. Following her departure, the head of a U.S. activist group, the Dui Hua Foundation, announced that Chinese authorities had cut her sentence short for medical reasons.

Mrs. Kadeer, a Uighur native of western China's Xinjiang region, was imprisoned in 1999 for mailing Chinese newspaper clippings to her husband, an activist in the United States. Authorities sentenced her to eight years in prison for violating state security, but later reduced the sentence by one year.

Nicolas Becquelin of the Hong Kong based group Human Rights in China says Mrs. Kadeer's release is another example of China's habit of releasing political prisoners ahead of high-profile visits by U.S. officials.

"We've seen this repeatedly, year after year," he said. "It is a very cynical policy by the Chinese government to release one or two high profile prisoners while they continue to jail hundreds and that the human rights situation and the abuses are not really addressed."

Mrs. Kadeer's release comes the same day that U.S. officials in Geneva said they would not propose a motion criticizing China to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Beijing in recent years has cracked down on suspected separatist activities among members of the largely Muslim Uighur minority group in Xinjiang. Some rights advocates accuse Beijing of using the global war on terror as an excuse to go after innocent people.

U.S. officials had repeatedly pressed the Chinese government for Rebiya Kadeer's release.

A U.S. embassy spokeswoman on Thursday said the embassy welcomes her arrival in the United States and at the same time urges the Chinese government to release all others who are, in the U.S. view, imprisoned unjustly for expressing their religious and political views.