Dolkun Isa re-elected as head of World Uyghur Congress in diaspora vote

Veteran activist Dolkun Isa, whose elderly parents both died in custody at the start of a Chinese mass internment campaign, has been re-elected president of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) in a vote by Uyghur diaspora delegates from 25 countries, the group said Sunday.

The return of the 54-year-old Isa to a second three-year term at the helm of the WUC, which serves as the de facto government in exile for the Uyghur diaspora, comes after years of intensifying repression in Xinjiang and rising world attention to the plight of the vast region’s 12 million Uyghurs.

Chinese policies toward the Uyghurs and fellow Turkic-speaking Muslims — including mass internment, forced labor and coercive birth control — have drawn accusations of genocide from rights groups and several Western nations and led to Western sanctions on top Chinese Communist Party officials in the region.

“We have been doing everything in our power to stop China’s genocide against the Uyghur people since 2017,” Isa told RFA after his re-election was announced after the WUC General Assembly in the Czech Republic capital Prague.

“For the next three years, I’ll closely work with the WUC leadership as a team and fulfill our campaign promises of raising the Uyghur issue at the global level.”

Early 2017 marked the beginning of the mass internment campaign, under which as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been put through a network of detention camps and related labor facilities under what China claims is a residential vocational training center, Beijing angrily rejects genocide accusations, saying it is fighting terrorism in Xinjiang.

Isa, born in the oasis town of Aksu (Akesu in Chinese) in western Xinjiang, was a student leader of 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations at Xinjiang University in Urumqi, capital of the region. He fled China in 1994 and sought asylum in Germany, where he played a role in the establishment of the WUC in 2004.

Isa has paid a high personal price for his advocacy for the Uyghur cause, with authorities jailing many family members, including his parents and siblings.

His mother died in May 2018 at the age of 78 at a detention center in her home prefecture of Aksu, where she was detained for exhibiting “religious extremism.”

In early 2020, Isa learned that his father had also perished in one of the camps about a year after he was incarcerated in mid-2017.

Isa — who has played a major role in garnering global support for Uyghurs from governments, religious leaders and celebrities — won re-election with 198 of the 204 votes cast by delegates from 25 countries in Prague on Saturday.

Erkin Ekrem, Zubeyre Shemsidin, and Perhat Yorungqash were chosen to serve as vice presidents, the WUC said.

In August, the Munich, Germany-based WUC held its first democratic vote to  choose the 210 delegates who voted in Prague, selecting them from 320 candidates in an expansion of voting to include youth representatives, women independent activists and those not working for Uyghur organizations.

In addition to Europe and North America, where the main Uyghur advocacy group are based, significant Uyghur populations live in fellow Turkic-speaking nations Kazakhstan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Expressing gratitude Sunday to the people who re-elected him, Isa said: “I know our burden is heavy and our mission is critical, but we’ll never let our people down.”

Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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