Rebiya Kadeer (1947) was awarded the 2004 Rafto Prize for her struggle for basic human rights for the Uyghurs. The Uyghurs are a Turkic speaking, primarily Muslim people. Although the region Xinjiang was given autonomy in 1955, millions of Chinese immigrants have been sent to the region and the Chinese have taken, progressively, more control politically and economically.
'I want to be the mother of the Uyghurs, the medicine for their sufferings, the cloth to wipe their tears, and the shelter to protect them from the rain.'
In 1997 Rebiya Kadeer founded the “Thousand Mothers Movement” to promote job training and employment for Uyghur women. Kadeer also established evening schools for Uyghurs who did not have the opportunity to go to ordinary school. Kadeer’s humanistic message is “It is our moral obligation to help the ones in need, and we must leave no one behind”.
Kadeer has paid a high price for criticizing China’s long-standing repression of the Uyghurs. She was arrested in August 1999 and sentenced in March 2000 to eight year’s imprisonment. This sentence was later reduced by one year following a secret trial, where neither she nor her lawyer had the opportunity to argue her case.
Following her release in March 2005, Kadeer was elected as the president of the World Uyghur Congress. Kadeer continues to champion the rights of the Uyghur people from exile in the US.
A biography of Rebiya Kadeer, "Die Himmelsstürmerin" (The Stormer of the Sky), written by German writer Alexandra Cavelius, was published in 2007 in German. A worldwide English edition entitled "Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic Struggle for Peace with China" was published in 2009.