The Painful Cost of Advocating for Uyghur Rights: My Family’s Story

In the Summer of 2017, my family’s world was shattered when we received news that 24 of my husband’s family members had gone missing, detained by the Chinese government. In September 2018, I dared to speak up about these unjust arrests, ongoing genocidal policies, and the atrocities committed against the Uyghurs, a decision that would change our lives forever. Exactly five years ago, on September 11th, my sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, became the victim of China’s repressive regime.

My sister is an apolitical person whose only “crime” was being related to someone who spoke out against the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide. Her abduction from her home in Urumchi, was a direct retribution imposed upon my own activism, highlighting the extent to which Chinese authorities resort to arbitrary detention and persecution to silence dissent and promote their own political agenda.

In December 2020, we finally received indirect information through a third party confirming my sister’s unfair sentencing on fabricated charges of “terrorism” and “social disruption.” This revelation was a horrifying confirmation of our worst fears. The spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs later verified these distressing details during a press conference but all without any court hearing or due process.

The actions undertaken by the Chinese government in this case, much like the countless others before it, serve as a chilling testament to the abhorrent consequences that await Uyghur activists and their loved ones who exercise their fundamental right to freedom of speech in defense of human rights. It lays bare their ruthless resolve to employ transnational retribution and ruthless repression, adamant in their quest to crush any dissenting voice that dares challenge their oppressive policies.

The Uyghur genocide, an unparalleled atrocity, coupled with the ongoing crimes against humanity at the hands of the Chinese government demand the attention and action of the international community. We cannot idly stand on the sidelines, mere spectators, as innocent individuals like my sister are forced to bear the brunt of this vicious cycle of injustice, merely guilty by association. The agony and devastation that has consumed my family represent but a minuscule fraction of the colossal tragedy unraveling in my homeland, each tear a testament to an unspeakable horror that calls for unified outrage and intervention.

It is important to acknowledge the possibility that my sister might have played a role in the creation of the shirt you are wearing or the shoes on your feet. Sadly, due to the ongoing Uyghur forced labor crisis, countless Uyghurs like my sister are subjected to coercion and exploitation. Furthermore, it is crucial to recognize our own agency and ensure that we do not contribute to this systemic Uyghur Slavery. By making conscious choices, such as opting not to purchase goods made in China or supporting companies that ensure transparent and ethical sourcing, we can actively refuse to be complicit in this genocide. Our collective actions can send a powerful message to governments and industries, demanding an end to Uyghur forced labor and a commitment to upholding basic human dignity for all.

As someone who firmly believes in the principles of truth and justice, I condemn the false propaganda campaigns like the Potemkin-style visits to East Turkistan (AKA Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region by the CCP), particularly the recent visit by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The economic coercion employed by China to silence criticism and sway opinion undermines the credibility of these visits, thereby hindering the OIC’s ability to provide an unbiased assessment of the situation in East Turkistan.

China’s invitation to the OIC delegates was clearly aimed at promoting a distorted narrative of peace and prosperity experienced by Uyghurs. However, it is essential to approach such visits with caution and question the authenticity of the information presented. Only through independent investigations, conducted without any interference or influence, can we uncover the truth about what is happening on the ground. Several leaked documents, including the Xinjiang Police Files by Dr. Adrian Zenz,  Senior Fellow and Director in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, demonstrates the cruel reality of the genocidal policies of Xi Jinping in our homeland.

The international community must not be swayed by false narratives and must remain committed to the values of transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights. Shining a light on the realities faced by Uyghurs and holding those responsible accountable should be our collective endeavor. It is crucial for organizations like the OIC, governments, and individuals to uphold these principles and challenge the false propaganda surrounding the genocide.

Today, I must share another heart-wrenching chapter of our family’s story. In January 2023, my father-in-law, Abdulkarim Zikrullah Idris, passed away at the age of 81. Yet, what makes this tragedy even more agonizing is that our family didn’t learn of his passing until August 15th, seven long months after it occurred. The exact date and circumstances surrounding his death remain shrouded in uncertainty, leaving us in a perpetual state of anguish and longing for closure.

In the midst of a technological uprising, an age overflowing with instantaneous communication, limitless connectivity through the internet, and the advent of cutting-edge artificial intelligence, the Uyghurs are condemned to suffer in an inescapable abyss of silence. The last time my husband was able to communicate with his father was on April 25, 2017. For over six and a half years, we were uninformed about his location and health, left in a painful void of information.

What adds to our anguish is that my husband has not been able to see his father for more than two decades, denied the opportunity to bid a final farewell or participate in a proper burial. This separation is not by choice but a consequence of a cruel and arbitrary system that separates families. A perverse manifestation of a heartless system, savagely mocks the very concept of family, leaving us to wither in a desolate purgatory of unanswered cries and shattered hopes.

My mother-in-law, Habibehan Idris, is reported to be outside of the camps. However, her children, Turanisahan Idris, Bu’Aisha Idris, Bu’Hadiqa Idris, and Abdurahim Idris, their whereabouts shrouded in obscurity, remain detained. Their spouses and children are also missing, once laughter-filled echoes of love, now vanish without a trace, leaving behind an irrevocable void. She currently battles illness, a challenge made all the more formidable by the absence of caregiving support from her imprisoned children, a blade that cuts ever deeper into our already wounded hearts.

The absence of closure and the anguish of living in perpetual uncertainty about the fate of our family members are blatant violations of basic human rights perpetrated by the Chinese regime. It underscores the ongoing suffering endured by the Uyghurs, who are left in limbo, unable to mourn, unable to heal. It is a haunting symphony, a symphony of shattered dreams and stolen lives, playing ceaselessly in the depths of our collective consciousness.

The international community must not turn a blind eye to these stories of pain and separation. We must amplify these voices, demand transparency, and hold China accountable for its actions. The anguish of Uyghur families, like mine, must be acknowledged, and steps must be taken to ensure that such suffering is brought to an end. This is not just a Uyghur issue; it’s a human rights issue, and it’s a challenge to the very values that the global community holds dear. Let us not remain silent in the face of such profound suffering. As we remember the events of September 11th, let us also remember the individuals like my sister who have become victims of a different kind of terror – the terror of arbitrary detention, persecution, and a flagrant disregard for justice. We must continue to raise our voices, advocate for justice, and work tirelessly to ensure that those responsible for these crimes are held accountable. This is a struggle between right and wrong, and good and evil. The Uyghur people deserve nothing less, and the world must not turn a blind eye to their suffering.

Beijing is attempting to export their worldview and authoritarian system globally. What China is doing to my people, to Tibetans, Southern Mongolians, and Hong Kongers is a preview of what we will see, should we allow China to continue their crimes. If we allow the Chinese regime to continue this path, the world that has been built on the foundations of freedom, democracy, and human rights will be dismantled before our very eyes and it will be your children, and grandchildren, that will deal with the consequences of an illiberal world.

Rushan Abbas is the Founder and Executive Director of Campaign For Uyghurs (CFU).