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China: Uyghur Activist In Nobel Spotlight

  • Breffni O'Rourke --> Rebiya Kadeer in Washington on October 6 (AFP) PRAGUE, October 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer is regarded among the favorites for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, which will be announced by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo on October 13.

In all, 191 individuals or groups have been nominated for the prestigious award.

Kadeer, the mother of 11, is a leading figure in the movement to secure the rights of the Uyghur people, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in northwestern China.

She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a Swedish parliamentarian who praised her support for the Uyghur cause and the rights of women.

Displeased In Beijing

A millionaire businesswoman, the 58-year-old grandmother was sentenced to eight years in jail in 1999 for her pro-rights activities.

Chinese authorities released her in 2004, reportedly for reasons of ill health, and she now lives in exile in the United States. They have reportedly suggested that awarding Kadeer the Nobel Prize would complicate relations with Sweden.

Kadeer told RFE/RL that she regards her nomination as a "timely reminder" of the abuses the Uyghur minority suffers.

"My nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize is a recognition by the international community of the plight and suffering of the Uyghur people, and of China's authoritarian rule," Kadeer said.

Some Welcome Attention

Kadeer is president of the Uyghur American Association, and her spokesman, Ben Caardus, says the true value of the nomination is that it helps internationalize the problem, drawing the little-known Uyghur cause into the limelight.

"It seems that the cause is very little known outside of a few select areas around the world, which is surprising when you consider that it directly affects so many millions of people -- there are 8 to 10 million Uyghurs," Caardus says.

The vast majority of Uyghurs live in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Province, part of what used to form the short-lived East Turkestan Republic (1933 and 1944-49).

International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International accuse the Chinese of repressing Uyghurs and other non-Chinese peoples and their cultures, while attempting to make the Uyghurs a minority in Xinjiang by resettling Han Chinese there. Hundreds of Uyghurs have been imprisoned and executed for political or insurgent activities.
The spokesman also says Kadeer sees the Nobel nomination -- regardless of whether she wins the prize -- as a recognition not of herself, but of the struggle of her people for freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Outside Chance

In the Nobel contest, Kadeer may have a difficult time beating another favorite, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. Ahtisaari brokered a truce in 2005 between Indonesia and separatist Aceh rebels.

Ahtisaari is now involved in a difficult mediation process aimed at defining the future status of the independence-minded province of Kosovo in Serbia.

Also reportedly in the running for the prize are Ahtisaari's partners in the Aceh deal, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Other Nobel candidates this year include former Czech President and perennial Nobel nominee Vaclav Havel, the charitable religious organization the Salvation Army, and Irish rock stars Bono and Bob Geldof, who have raised money for the poor in Africa.

The 2005 prize was shared by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IADA) and its head, Muhammad el-Baradei, for efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes.

The peace prize is one of several prizes endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel more than a century ago. Prizes are also awarded for medicine, physics, chemistry, economics, and literature, with the peace prize wrapping up the process. Americans have dominated in this year's various awards.

Each prize is worth $1.37 million, and they will be formally presented at a ceremony in Stockholm on December 10.