Human Rights Watch today called for the immediate release of a prominent businesswoman and five others arbitrarily detained earlier this week in the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region in northwestern China.

Rebiya Kadeer, known locally as the "millionairess," is married to a U.S. resident and former political prisoner named Sidik Rouzi, who has been highly critical of China's treatment of Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group. Rouzi regularly broadcasts for Voice of America and Radio Free Asia; the arrest of Rebiya Kadeer and others close to her may be linked to his activities, although the charges against them have not been made public.

Kadeer and two other women were taken into custody at 7:00 a.m. on August 11 in front of the Yingdu Hotel in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, where they had gone to meet a group of visiting Americans. As she was being arrested, Kadeer reportedly called out, "Tell my son!" The next morning, at 1:30 a.m., two of her sons, Ablikim Abdiryim twenty-six, and Alim Abdiryim, twenty-four, were also detained in Urumqi. Two other sons living in the town of Aksu were placed under house arrest. Kadeer's secretary, Kahriman Abdukirim, was also picked up. He had only been released on August 7 after spending more than eight months in incommunicado detention without charge, apparently because of political discussions he had taken part in as a college student.

"This case involves multiple violations of human rights," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Six people appear to have been arbitrarily detained as punishment either for contact with foreigners or in an effort to stop overseas broadcasts critical of China. All should be released immediately." Human Rights Watch also urged the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to make immediate inquiries about the whereabouts of the six in police custody and about their access to family members and legal assistance.

Rebiya Kadeer gained prominence for her efforts to further development in Xinjiang and for her 1000 Families Mothers' Project, designed to help Uighur woman develop their own small businesses. The regional government supported her efforts until several of her sons fled the country to join their father in the U.S. In April 1997, Kadeer's passport was confiscated. In September 1997, Wang Lequan, secretary of the regional Communist Party Committee, announced that she could not leave the country because "her husband was engaged in subverting the government and separatist activities outside the country."

In May 1999, the police told her bluntly that if her husband carried through with plans to demonstrate against a Chinese Theme Park in Orlando, Florida, she would be arrested. The threat was never carried out.

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