– My people are living in an open prison

Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur human rights defender, the 2004 Rafto Prize laureate, and Lidia Yusupova, Chechen human rights advocate, the 2005 Rafto Prize laureate, were among the speakers at the Oslo Freedom Forum from 26-29 April, an annual conference that brings together human rights defenders to share their experience and expertise.

Rebiya Kadeer held an opening speech at the forum on 27 April, saying: “I speak peacefully, and struggle without weapons, while the Chinese government uses guns and instruments of torture to intimidate the Uyghur people. Still, the Chinese government is afraid of me, because they are afraid of the truth”.

Darkest corners of the world
Rebiya Kadeer focused on the Uyghur situation, saying: “We cannot be silent about human rights atrocities being carried out against the Uyghur people. We must continue to speak out on behalf of the mothers whose sons are being tortured in Chinese prisons; the wives who are afraid to ask what has happened to their husbands; and the children who are not allowed to speak their own language in school. My people are living in an open prison”.

Abuses of Uyghur rights
Rebiya Kadeer is a leader of the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur American Association. During the past year, after peaceful demonstrations and violent unrest that rocked Urumchi (regional capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) in July 2009, “the Chinese government has attempted to smother the voices of these organisations and crackdown even harder on the Uyghur people,” stated Kadeer.

“By mid-July 2009 alone, more than 4,000 Uyghurs had been arrested in sweeps of Urumchi’s Uyghur neighborhoods. Urumchi’s prisons were so full by mid-July that Uyghur detainees were being held in warehouses. Beatings of Uyghurs in detention have become commonplace,” described Rebiya Kadeer. “Shohret Tursan, detained in 6 July 2009, was beaten to death in custody. His body was returned to relatives covered in wounds, scars and bruises. When three of Shohret Tursan’s relatives dared to inform the media of this brutal killing, Chinese officials detained two of them”.

Out of Ashes
Lidia Yusupova, Chechen human rights advocate, was invited to speak at the session with a topic – Out of Ashes. She acts as a spokeswoman for the forgotten victims of the war in the Chechen Republic and highlights the situation in the North Caucasus. Lidia Yusupova is a lawyer by profession. She coordinated the Grozny office of human rights organisation Memorial between 2000-2005. Currently she is an active journalist/blogger. Her writings are published via the internet mass medium called “Caucasian Knot” and the Chechen independent magazine “DOSH”.

How many more must die?
Yusupova writes about forced disappearances and illegal detentions; the lives of internally displaced refugees in the North Caucasus; traumatised families who face the anguish of never knowing the fate of a father, brother or son; children growing up in a war zone.

Despite the loss of many family members, colleagues and friends, Lidia Yusupova continues to raise the issues regarding the human rights situation and freedom of speech in the North Caucasus. In her speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum on 28 April, she raised the question: “How many more must die: civilians, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers, in order for the international community turns its attention on the situation in the North Caucasus”?

Oslo Freedom Forum – background
Oslo Freedom Forum is an annual conference established in 2009 that seeks to provide human rights advocates with the opportunity to reach a global audience, join forces with innovative leaders in a variety of fields, and build a community that aims to make a lasting impact in the struggle for human rights and freedom.

The theme of this year’s forum was “From Tragedy to Triumph: The Heroism that Changed History & Ideas for Transforming Tomorrow” and gathered speakers from more than 40 countries.

Related links:

Oslo Freedom Forum 2010: Stand up for human rights

Russia’s North Caucasus – human rights and conflict dynamics

Uyghurs treated as second-class citizens by China

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