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Lawmakers Urge Congress to Condemn China's Crackdown on Uighurs

Two U.S. lawmakers are urging Congress and the Obama administration to strongly condemn China's crackdown on Uighur Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where violence in the city of Urumqi left more than 150 people dead. A Uighur activist responded again to Chinese government allegations that she helped fuel the violence.

Rabiya Kadeer, the Uighur activist who Chinese authorities alleged helped stir up demonstrations, appeared at a news conference with two lawmakers seeking to refocus congressional attention on the situation in Xinjiang.

Democrat William Delahunt's Subcommittee on Human Rights, International Organizations, and Oversight has held a series of hearings on the Uighur people.

He rejects Beijing's allegations against Kadeer, calling them part of an ongoing campaign by Chinese authorities to falsely portray Uighurs as terrorists.

"The regime has gone so far as to call her a terrorist and responsible for the violence in China, just as they did in the case of the Uighur men wrongfully imprisoned in Guantanamo," said Delahunt.

Speaking through an interpreter, Kadeer said she is against violence and denied playing a role in fueling protests. She said a crackdown on Uighurs is continuing, with authorities calling for severe punishment of protest leaders, including execution.

"The crackdown is still ongoing," said Kadeer. "Uighurs are being arrested, Chinese mobs are still after innocent Uighurs and we do not believe the statistics put out by the Chinese government. The actual number we believe is much higher."

The Chinese government said at least 156 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded as a result of clashes or the crackdown by authorities.

Clashes in Xinjiang have largely been between the Han Chinese majority and the Uighur minority, a Turkic group sharing similarities with people in Central Asia.

Uighurs accuse Beijing of discrimination and repression, while China's government accuses Uighurs, who comprise nearly half of Xinjiang's 20 million people, of using terrorism in the pursuit of independence.

A resolution Congressman Delahunt is introducing condemns violent repression by the Chinese government of what it calls "peaceful Uighur protests."

The resolution notes the Chinese government's official campaign to encourage Han Chinese migration into the traditional Uighur homeland in Xinjiang, which it calls East Turkestan. But it also expresses sadness at the loss of both Han Chinese and Uighur life during recent upheavals.

The resolution also calls on Beijing to end what it calls "slander of Rebiya Kadeer, who lawmakers say supports democracy and a peaceful resolution of differences between Uighur people and the People's Republic of China.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher asserts that successive U.S. administrations have failed to adopt a strong enough stance against Chinese policies in Xinjiang, and says the resolution will put Congress on record on recent events.

"What's going on in East Turkestan and the slaughter of the Uighurs and the suppression of their efforts to obtain their own freedom is not just the business of the Uighurs, it is the business of free people everywhere and especially it's the business of the people of the U.S. who should be in alliance with those people everywhere who are struggling to make this a more peaceful and a more democratic world," he said.

The symbolic resolution urges Beijing to allow observers and journalists access to protest areas, and access to trials of those charged with protest-related crimes. It says any innocent individuals involved in protests should be released, and urges Beijing not to seek the death penalty for those engaged in peaceful dissent.

Rohrabacher and Delahunt also reiterated their anger at U.S. military authorities for allowing Chinese intelligence officials to interrogate Uighur detainees at the U.S. naval detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2002.

Delahunt has raised the matter in successive congressional hearings dealing with U.S. detainee policy, noting that he and Congressman Rohrabacher were not permitted access to the 17 Uighurs held at Guantanamo for nearly seven years.

Delahunt said he met with four Uighurs who were sent to Bermuda in June, adding he is scheduling another hearing on the issue next week at which he hopes to hear a direct explanation from the Pentagon.