WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China’s government is forcibly moving young women of the ethnic Uighur minority from their homes in Xinjiang to factories in eastern China, a Uighur activist told the U.S. Congress on Wednesday.
Rebiya Kadeer, jailed for more than five years for championing the rights of the Muslim Uighurs before being sent into exile in the United States in 2005, called for U.S. help in stopping a program she said had already removed more than 240,000 people, mostly women, from Xinjiang.
“Local authorities consider the transfer of Uighur women into China’s eastern provinces as one of the most important government policies and they have expressed zero tolerance to any kind of opposition to it,” she said.
Kadeer, nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, told the Congressional Human Rights Caucus the women being transferred under the guise of “employment opportunities” were single and ranged in age from 16 to 25.
She said they were largely taken from southern parts of Xinjiang, where the Uighur population was still in the majority.
“Already, hundreds of thousands of young Uighur women have been forcibly transferred from East Turkestan into Beijing, Tianjin, Jiangsu, Qingdao, Shandong, Zhejiang and other locations,” she said, speaking through a translator and citing official Xinjiang media for her statistics.
East Turkestan is the name some activists use to describe Xinjiang. Beijing keeps a tight grip on the vast and mostly poor region, which borders Central Asia and is where Uighur activists have been agitating for greater autonomy.
The women faced harsh treatment with 12-hour work days and often saw wages withheld for months, Kadeer said, describing the women as “cheap slave labor and potential sex workers.”
Many Uighurs in Xinjiang “see this as one of the most humiliating policies to date” by Chinese authorities, she said. Many suspect that the government policy is to get them to marry majority Han Chinese in China’s cities while resettling Han in traditional Uighur lands, she added.
Kadeer appealed to the United States to monitor the movement of the women and use future human rights dialogue with China to call for an end to the practice.
The Chinese embassy in Washington was not immediately available to comment on Kadeer’s allegations. But Beijing routinely vilifies the mother of 11 and in June called her an “out-and-out criminal.”