Uighur Activists Celebrate Religious Freedom Agency’s First Uighur Commissioner

Uighur American attorney and activist Nury Turkel. Video screengrab

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has appointed prominent Uighur American attorney and activist Nury Turkel to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent religious freedom watchdog agency funded by Congress.

Turkel’s appointment has been celebrated widely by Uighur rights activists, who say the move is a clear signal to the Chinese government that the U.S. government will not tolerate human rights violations against Uighurs in its Xinjiang region.

“Nury’s work as a Commissioner will be a symbol of Uyghur Americans’ whole-hearted embrace of democratic values and religious freedom for all,” Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, said in a statement. “Nury has been an outstanding voice calling for global action to end the mass atrocities committed against Uyghurs in our homeland, East Turkistan.” East Turkistan is the name many Uighurs use to refer to Xinjiang.

The first U.S.-educated Uighur lawyer, Turkel co-founded the UHRP and serves as the group’s board chair. He was a founding member of the World Uyghur Congress and previously served as president of the Uyghur American Association, where he led a campaign for the release of Uighur prisoner of conscience Rebiya Kadeer in 2005.

Uighurs are the ethnically Turkic and mostly Muslim minority concentrated in China’s northwest, where more than a million members of the minority have been confined in detention camps. (Uyghur is an alternate spelling of Uighur.)

Since 2018, Turkel has testified before Congress, detailing human rights activists and scholars’ accusations that the Chinese government’s anti-Uighur campaigns include forced labor and mass internment.

Turkel, who was appointed to USCIRF on May 22, replaces former Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee, the commission’s first Tibetan Buddhist chief.

“Mr. Turkel brings significant experience as a lawyer and human rights advocate making him a great asset to the Commission’s work,” said USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins. “He will especially bring insight and knowledge to the plight of Uyghur Muslims in China and elsewhere.”

The bipartisan government advisory body’s nine commissioners, appointed by the U.S. president and leaders of both parties in the Senate and House, are tasked with monitoring religious freedom abroad and making policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress.

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Source: Religion News Service