Edited Excerpts from the Interview to Tehelka Correspondent Riyaz Wani:
Q. Do you know that because of the denial of your visa by India, you have become very popular in India?
It seems that many Indian media outlets picked up the story, so hopefully the Uyghur situation in China has got some attention in India.
Q. What do you make of India’s last minute cancellation of the visa? You did express disappointment.
Sometimes it is difficult to travel to certain parts of the world because of China’s pressure against allowing human rights activists to gather and speak to one another and to the media. It is unfortunate that I was unable to attend, but I am hoping that I may travel to the country in the future.
Q. What were you going to say at the Dharamsala conference?
As at other conferences, I would have focused my speech on some of the more recent and significant problems facing the Uyghur community. Some of the most significant problems today include harsh restrictions on religious and cultural expression leading to long jail terms in some cases, restrictions on free movement, arbitrary arrests, and extra-judicial killings. The Chinese government has also pressured its neighbours to return Uyghurs who have fled repression in contravention of international law.
I would have also spoken about how the Uyghur and Tibetan communities can work together along with other human rights defenders working on China issues. The conference would have allowed for constructive communication between all groups, so it was unfortunate that I was unable to attend.
Q. You call yourself a “strictly non-violent campaigner for Uyghur rights”. But China calls you a terrorist. Why?
I have been labelled as a terrorist by China primarily as a means to delegitimise the human rights work that I do to support the Uyghur community. China often calls people it doesn’t like and who are human rights defenders as terrorists and tries to link credible activists with violence. Since 9/11, China has used the “War on Terror” as a justification for its repressive measures in East Turkestan and tries to get the rest of the international community to see all Uyghurs as violent — a claim that clearly does not hold up to scrutiny if reliable information is available.
I have also rejected any comparison or association to China’s recent veto by the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee of Pakistani militant leader, Masood Azhar. Such a comparison seeks only to delegitimise my decades of work as a strictly non-violent campaigner for Uyghur rights.