Uyghur Human Rights laureate of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in 2016 - was born on 2nd September 1967 in Aksu, a city in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in north-western China, home to the Turkish-speaking Muslim Uyghur minority.
A student leader of pro-democracy demonstrations at Xinjiang University - where he attended the Faculty of Physics - in the 1980s, he founded the University’s Student Science and Culture Union in 1987 and worked on programmes to eradicate illiteracy. In 1989, however, he was expelled from university due to his determination to fight for minority rights. Notwithstanding, he managed to complete his studies on his own and later earned a master’s degree in politics and sociology at Gazi University in Turkey and a bachelor’s degree in computer science in Munich, Germany.
From an early age he fought for the rights of his people, the Uyghur people, who were victims of detention in re-education camps, repression and forced labour, aimed at distorting their religious and cultural identity, under the pretext of fighting against terrorism and extremist violence. Between 1988 and 1990, Dolkun Isa travelled to several cities in China, particularly in Xinjiang, to gather information on the Chinese government’s policy towards the Uyghurs. From 1990 to 1994, he studied English and Turkish at the University of Foreign Languages in Beijing and during this time, he was involved in distributing important books on Uyghur history to the same community.
The activist and his family suffered repression by the Beijing government against the Uyghurs. Arrests, threats and intimidation marked Dolkun Isa’s life. He was forced to leave China in 1994 due to repeated threats of imprisonment by the Chinese Communist Party. He then fled to Turkey, where he studied at Ankara’s Gazi University. He then moved to Europe, where he sought asylum. In 2006, he became a German citizen.
Exiled in Germany for over 20 years, Dolkun Isa has never stopped fighting to denounce injustice and violence suffered by his people. He has used all his strengths and skills to shed light on the issue of Uyghurs at an international level and to expose the ongoing repression. In November 1996, he played a crucial role in the establishment of the World Uyghur Youth Congress
in Germany and served as its President. In April 2004, he took part in the founding of the World Uyghur Congress in Germany - of which he is the current President - and was elected Secretary General. This is an international organisation, declared to be a terrorist organisation by the Chinese government, formed by exiled Uyghurs whose aim is to “represent the collective interest of the Uyghur people” both inside and outside the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the People’s Republic of China.
Since then, Dolkun Isa has presented Uyghur rights issues to the UN Human Rights Council, the European Parliament, European governments and international human rights organisations.
Due to his determination, Chinese authorities added Dolkun Isa’s name to Interpol “blacklist” back in the 1990s. The activist has repeatedly been the victim of various arbitrary arrests and obstructionism. In 2009, for example, he was refused entry to the Republic of Korea and was detained there for four days in September of the same year - risking extradition to China - while preparing to attend the World Forum for Democratisation in Asia. After his detention was condemned by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), he was released, but he was still not allowed into the country. Again, on 26th April 2017, he was forced to leave UN headquarters, where he was supposed to attend the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues. Despite efforts made by the UNPO and the Society for Threatened Peoples, he was unable to re-enter the building.
Dolkun Isa, a victim of constant intimidation, has also defended the rights of the Uyghur people by raising the issue before the United Nations, before EU institutions and in individual states. In 2017, he was also elected Vice-president of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), of which the World Uyghur Congress is a member. In this capacity, he works with other marginalised or unrepresented peoples to collectively fight for democracy, freedom and respect for basic human rights. In the same year, his mother died in one of the detention and re-education camps where his brother is now also imprisoned. All that is known about his father is that he died in 2019.
The fact that the Uyghur issue is now being discussed worldwide is certainly also due to the work of Dolkun Isa.
“Freedom is not free, you need to pay a price for it and my family and I are paying it”, Isa said in an interview with Lifegate. “Uyghurs have an important history along the old Silk Road and have contributed greatly to the world’s cultural heritage, always fighting to protect their symbols and their identity. Today, all this risks disappearing, this is why the world needs to raise its voice and demand that China give answers about its policy in the region and stop the genocide of Uyghurs. The international community cannot remain silent, we must take initiatives, we must save our culture”.
Translated from Italian by Valentina Gianoli