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(New York) - Chinese security agents have launched what appears to be a politically motivated crackdown against the family and associates of Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent advocate of the rights of China’s Muslim Uighur community, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since May 11, security agents in the northwest province of Xinjiang have tried to arrest Kadeer’s son, beaten and detained several of her family’s associates, and raided her business offices.

Kadeer was arrested in August 1999 while publicly meeting with a member of a U.S. congressional staff delegation. She served five and a half years of her eight-year sentence before she was released on medical parole on March 17 and joined her husband in exile in the United States. During her imprisonment and exile, Kadeer’s five children in Xinjiang have run the Kadeer Trading Center, her million-dollar trading company in the province’s capital, Urumqi.

“The Chinese government doesn’t seem content to have forced Rebiya Kadeer into exile after keeping her in jail for years,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “It looks as if the Chinese government is intent on ruining any legacy she may have left behind by destroying her business and silencing her children.”

Kadeer, who is Uighur herself, has been an advocate for the rights of this Turkic-speaking minority of some 8 million people, whose traditional homeland lies in the oil-rich Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northwest China. The Uighurs have become increasingly fearful for their cultural survival and traditional way of life in the face of an intensive internal migration drive that has witnessed the arrival of more than 1.2 million ethnic Chinese settlers over the past decade. Many Uighurs desire greater autonomy than is currently allowed.

Several days before Kadeer was released from prison, guards warned her that her “business and children would be finished” if she contacted Uighurs abroad or revealed “sensitive” information. She has not heeded this warning and has spoken with journalists, policymakers and Uighur groups.

On May 11, police detained two employees of the Kadeer Trade Center. Ruzi Mamat, 25, and Aysham Kerim, 34, worked at Kadeer’s firm as company secretary and company director, respectively. Eyewitnesses said that Kerim, a nursing mother of a 7-month-old baby, was dragged by the hair to a waiting police car. Both Mamat and Kareem were reportedly held at the Fifth Branch of the Public Security Bureau in Urumqi.

On May 13, police brought both employees back to the Kadeer Trading Center as they raided the company’s offices. Police took Mamat and Kerim away again after the raid.

During the raid on Kadeer’s office, police tried to arrest Kadeer’s son, Ablikim Abdiriyim. He managed to evade arrest by 20 police officers and fled into a crowd of people who kept the pursuing police at bay. His location is unknown. In 1999, Ablikim was arrested at the same time as his mother and administratively sentenced to a two-year term of reeducation through labor.

Eyewitnesses said that police beat Ablikim’s friend, Ahmatchan Mamteli, and dragged him into a police car after he denied knowing Ablikim’s whereabouts. Ahmatchan was released two hours later after signing a statement that he would never again associate with members of Rebiya Kadeer’s family and would never go near the company’s premises. The police also confiscated the videotape he had made of the raid.

“Such heavy-handed tactics are used to silence independent voices, not for real police work,” Adams said. “Instead of supporting a successful local business, the Chinese government is anxious to crush any type of activity that is independent of its agenda.”

The raid seemed related to a loan the Kadeer Trading Center had recently received from the state-owned Bank of China. Police detained two of the bank’s employees, Shu Shao Chan and a woman named Karima, who were involved with processing the loan.

According to eyewitnesses at the raid, nearly 100 security personnel gathered outside the company’s offices while others conducted a thorough search. The security personnel “bagged every piece of paper they could get their hands on,” according to witnesses, filling 15 large trash bags.

Kadeer’s family has denied any suggestion of wrongdoing regarding the loans. The family claims that it has been in compliance with all laws and regulations relevant to running the business.

“This latest episode again demonstrates the Chinese government’s abusive behavior against the Uighurs, despite all the rhetoric about respecting the rule of law and the rights of religious minorities,” Adams added.

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