of success scape
'Please help us. We want freedom'
KEUNG IMMIGRATION/DIVERSITY REPORTER
Mississauga man aided defection of 7 Chinese acrobats `They
are very scared and worried for their families'
It was midnight last Saturday when Mohamed Tohti's cellphone
rang in his Mississauga home.
On the other end of the line, in an Ottawa hotel, a man
spoke in a quavering voice. "Please
help us. We want freedom."
The man was a 40-year-old performer with a touring Chinese
acrobatic troupe from the Xinjiang Uighur province of China,
a mainly Muslim region where some feel persecuted by the
He and six fellow acrobats were due to check out the next
day before flying back to China from Toronto. There would be
a small window between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sunday when the
five men and two women could escape the watchful eyes of
their tour leaders.
The seven, among a group of 13 who came to Canada to perform
during Chinese New Year celebrations in Toronto and Ottawa,
had no idea where they were. The man on the phone spelled
out for Tohti the name of a nearby hockey arena where they
would meet: "O-t-t-a-w-a C-i-v-i-c C-e-n-t-r-e A-r-e-n-a."
"We will see you at the entrance there at noon tomorrow,"
the man whispered before he hung up the phone.
At dawn the next day, the troupe leaders, who held the
performers' travel documents, locked their belongings into a
room and told the acrobats they had two hours of free time
to see the city.
One of the seven acrobats said that they were only paid $35
a day and suggested selling parts of their costumes for
money to buy souvenirs.
An unsuspecting troupe official gave the seven the key to
their room. They grabbed their luggage and ran to the
downtown Ottawa hockey arena, where they were greeted by
Tohti and another Uighur émigré waiting in their vehicles.
"The moment they got in the car, they were relieved and
said, `We are alive, in one piece and now we have freedom,'"
Tohti said in an interview yesterday.
Tohti, a former professor at the Kashgar Teachers' College
in Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China,
works for a large Toronto company. He is one of 55 members
of the closely knit Uighur community in the GTA. The
39-year-old is the president of the Uighur Canada
He didn't know much about the seven asylum seekers, who are
between the ages of 28 and 40. He met them once briefly on
Jan. 23 in the home of a friend after they contacted Tohti
through a number posted on the association's Web site.
They talked about the political climate back home and how
the acrobats were living on noodle soup during their tour.
Tohti, a former student movement leader who was labelled by
the central government as a separatist (or "splittist" in
Beijing's language) is familiar with the life of a fugitive.
He fled China with his wife and their newborn baby in 1991,
carrying fake passports as they travelled by train from
Beijing through Mongolia, Russia and Romania before they
arrived in Turkey. They came to Canada in November, 1998.
"Most people leave there because of the political
persecutions and ethnic discrimination by the Chinese
government," Tohti said. "For me and my family, getting the
fake documents was the only way out."
A 2002 Amnesty International report documented "gross
violations of human rights" in the predominantly Muslim
Xinjiang region as a result of the Communist regime's
crackdown on Uighur separatists and Muslim militants.
Christian Tyler, author of Wild West China: The Taming of
Xinjiang, describes the northwest border region as an
"It's a split society: You have Uighurs on the bottom end
and new immigrant (Han) Chinese on the top end taking all
the administrative jobs," Tyler said in an interview.
"(This) reminds me of the old Soviet days when artists and
dancers were people who wanted to defect because they had
the opportunity to go abroad and they would try to stay
Tohti said there are about 1 million Uighur refugees around
the world. Fewer than 200 are in Canada, with the majority
in Kazakhstan and Turkey.
The seven acrobats filed refugee claims in Canada Monday,
but Tohti would not reveal their names or whereabouts.
"They are still very scared now and they are worried for
their families back home. Government officials in Xinjiang
have already questioned their families," Tohti noted. "Life
for their families won't be easy."
On Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa issued a
statement denying that the seven are refugees. "All of them
are married with their families back in Urumqi, Xinjiang
Uighur Autonomous Region of China.
Their families and relatives are now anxiously looking
forward to their safe return at an early date," it said.
With files from Gabe Gonda
For our sorry
every scape story ends with this happy end , most of the other
stories stay in dark and no body knows about for its characters
are inChina`s jales or just killed by the Chinese