Uyghur activist receives Roosevelt freedom of worship award

Zumretay Arkin says China needs to be held accountable for rights violations against Uyghurs.

By Roseanne Gerin for RFA

A Uyghur activist on Thursday received a Four Freedoms award from the Roosevelt Foundation for years of campaigning for the rights of Muslim Uyghurs in far-western China’s Xinjiang region.

Zumretay Arkin, director of global advocacy and chair of the Women’s Committee at the World Uyghur Congress, was presented the Freedom of Worship Award at a ceremony attended by members of the Dutch royal family and Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Zumretay Arkin is awarded the Freedom of Worship medal by the Roosevelt Foundation at a ceremony in Middelburg, the Netherlands, April 11, 2024. (Zumretay Arkin via Twitter)

Based in the Netherlands, the Roosevelt Foundation honors individuals and organizations committed to protecting the Four Freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear — proclaimed by former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in a 1941 speech.

The awards ceremony was held in Middelburg, capital of the Dutch province of Zeeland. Roosevelt’s ancestors were from a village named Oud-Vossemeer in Zeeland.

“Me, standing here, accepting this prestigious award is a strong message to the Chinese government that we will not be silenced,” Arkin said during her acceptance speech.

“The persecution of the Uyghurs is not merely a domestic issue confined to the borders of China; it is a matter of global concern that demands our collective action and solidarity,” she said.

Arkin, 30, called on the international community not to remain silent in the face of egregious human rights abuses and to hold the Chinese government accountable for its actions while demanding an end to the repression of religious freedom and genocide in East Turkistan, Uyghurs’ preferred name for Xinjiang.

Arkin has drawn international attention to the suppression of religious freedom and violations of Uyghur human rights, founded a Uyghur friendship group for women worldwide, and worked to support Uyghur refugees, according to the Four Freedoms Awards website.

She has advocated for the protection and preservation of Uyghur culture, religion and language in international forums, including at the United Nations, the website said.

The U.S. and other Western governments have deemed China’s severe repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, including mass internments in camps, torture, and forced abortions and sterilizations of Uyghur women, as a genocide and crimes against humanity.

In February 2021, the parliament of the Netherlands was the first European legislature to pass a nonbinding motion saying that the treatment of the Uyghurs in China amounted to genocide.

Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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