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'My activism is fueled with love', says Uyghur campaign searching for her disappeared sister

Several demonstrators carry placards with messages against the Chinese government's policies against the Uyghur people during the pro-Uyghur demonstration on August 20, 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands [Nacho Calonge/Getty Images]
Several demonstrators carry placards with messages against the Chinese government's policies against the Uyghur people during the pro-Uyghur demonstration on August 20, 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands [Nacho Calonge/Getty Images]

China's decades-long abuse of Uyghurs Muslims is now well known, with satellite pictures of detention camps circulating along with the desperate testimonies of former inmates and their families, a horrid picture is being formed of what has been described as the worst human rights crisis in the world.

Many Uyghurs who live outside of China have been traumatised by the mass detentions of their relatives who have disappeared into a vast system of internment camps.

Some say they haven't spoken to their family members in years.

Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs, Rushan Abbas

Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs, Rushan Abbas

"My sister disappeared in September of 2018, six days after I spoke out on a panel regarding the disappearance of my husband's entire family. I have tried for two years to get proof of life, without any progress," says Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs, Rushan Abbas.

According to the organisation, around three million Uyghurs are arbitrarily detained outside of China's legal system.

Rushan explains how they are left to wonder when their loved ones disappeared, how they were taken, what they purportedly did wrong and where they might be now.

The activist's sister, Gulshan Abbas, is a retired Uyghur medical doctor and mother who went missing two years ago.

"It is a constant struggle, especially for my nieces, to live normally with the weight of this burden. And yet, this is the same struggle that all Uyghurs have," she says.

Rushan has been campaigning for Uyghur human rights and democracy since her arrival in the United States in 1989.

In 2018, she organised a global protest that successfully took place in 14 countries, to expose the mass incarceration of the Uyghurs, which included a demonstration in front of the United Nations (UN) building in New York.

Most people are largely unaware of just how many lies the Chinese regime gets away with because they so tightly control information. They find it unbelievable because they aren't living in a similar system and don't understand the realities of how barbaric a seemingly modern country like China actually is.

In order to discover what her missing sister may be going through, Rushan has interviewed former camp inmates who told her chilling details of the detention centres, including survivor Zumret Dawut, who last year testified that she was forced to undergo permanent sterilisation surgery.

Since China has prevented uncensored videos and pictures from inside the camps from leaking abroad, such testimonies are the strongest proof of what's happening behind closed doors, she noted.

The things that these witnesses describe reflect back to historic atrocities that the international community has sworn to never allow to happen again.

In April 2018, Dawut, a mother of three, was detained at an internment camp where she was forced to recite Chinese propaganda, beaten for providing food to an ailing fellow prisoner, and injected with unknown drugs, according to her account at a UN event.

Prisoners are shackled 24-hours a day, she added.

This is a strikingly different picture to the one-China has painted, claiming that the camps provide 'vocational training' and that prisoners can leave at any time.

"Women talk about seeing other women taken away to be gang-raped. They describe mental torture, physical torture, being given unknown injections, and medications. They describe being mocked for their faith as they are required to verbally worship [Chinese President] Xi JinPing and the [Chinese Communist Party] CCP before being given meager rations of food," explains Rashun.

"It's hard to even grasp how these things can be happening in the modern age. Each time I listen to their horrific stories I picture my sister going through the same, or worse. With her delicate health, it's very difficult to imagine how she could go through such things."

The individuals targeted have in many cases been put through religious and cultural 're-education', as the Chinese Government tries to modify their beliefs.

Women outside of the camps live under constant CCP surveillance, often while male family members are trapped in the camps.

This puts women at risk of sexual abuse.

"Women are being forced into marriages with Han Chinese men that they cannot refuse for fear of being labeled extremists for refusing marriage with atheist Han Chinese. Essentially, women are victims of state-sponsored mass rape," added Raushan.

"I constantly remind myself that I am not alone in this struggle, and I must let my sister's case serve as a visible example of how the Chinese regime's statements regarding what is happening are completely false. Her case serves as a litmus test of sorts. In many ways, my activism is fueled with love, and I will never, ever give up."

MEMOinConversationWith: Uyghur rights activist Arslan Hidayet on the lack of international support and solidarity with Uyghur Muslims

One of the most eye-opening lessons in her search for her sister has been the revelation that many in the West and the Middle East are content to defend China's actions.

"We still see that the Middle Eastern countries are shamefully silent on the plight of their Muslim brothers and sisters. It's incredibly disturbing and painful. Even seeing Western brands that are complicit and personally wondering whether my sister made the clothing on people's backs."

Several recent reports have documented how Chinese authorities have forced Uyghurs and other Muslims swept up in the crackdown to work in factories producing goods such as textiles, electronics, food, and products.

Shockingly, the extensive list of Western companies benefitting from these factories include Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, Apple, and Amazon, a US freedom watchdog has warned.

Activist waves a flag of the Uyghur region as she takes part in a protest outside of the Apple Store on July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC [Jemal Countess/Getty Images for SumOfUs]

Activist waves a flag of the Uyghur region as she takes part in a protest outside of the Apple Store on July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC [Jemal Countess/Getty Images for SumOfUs]

"The Chinese regime worships money," Rashun says. Therefore, economic sanctions and trade restrictions are the way to end their rule of terror, she adds.

"We need more unilateral efforts from the international community, especially to counter the inefficacy of the United Nations."

One of the key reasons for the framing of Uyghurs as "extremists" relates to Xi Jinping's signature project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to build an infrastructure network to connect Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient trade routes, many of them in the Middle East.

"It has put the Uyghurs' homeland at the epicenter of China's geopolitical and economic ambitions," says Rushan.

READ: Man 'forced' to inform on fellow Uyghurs for China shot in Turkey, report says

To date, Beijing has signed BRI cooperation agreements with 18 Arab countries, and Chinese companies have signed contracts worth $35.6 billion there, $1.2 billion of which is directed towards local energy and manufacturing sectors. Trade between China and the Arab world was valued at $244.3 billion last year alone.

"It is for this reason, and due to Xi Jinping's forced assimilatory policies, that Beijing has adopted a strategy of complete control and extermination of the Uyghur people, as their version of the final solution for imperialistic Communist China's dream of world domination. The repressive policies are now focused on undermining the key tenets of Uyghur Muslims' identity: religion, language, culture, and history."

China's money doesn't come for free, she warns. If the Chinese communist regime is eradicating Islam and Uyghurs to reach their goals, it will do the same for all Muslim majority countries in its path.

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