‘Uyghur people fighting for their basic rights and for greater democracy in China’
I am a human rights activist, a mother and a US citizen. I am also an Uyghur, born in Urumqi, East Turkistan in what the Chinese government refers to as its “New Frontier” – Xinjiang. Formally, the Communist China calls it the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, but in reality, it is just an Orwellian mass surveillance state where more than two million Uyghurs are arbitrarily detained outside the legal system in concentration camps. The Uyghurs are an ethnically and culturally Turkic people, which has been under the control of the Communist China since 1949. As a result of our unique ethnic identity, culture, language and religion and our desire for our basic rights and freedoms to be respected, we have been persecuted and repressed for decades.
It is this repression that started me down the path of human rights activism. I first became involved while I was a student at the Xinjiang University in Urumqi. At the time, thousands of Uyghurs and other Turkic university and college students In Urumchi were protesting for their basic rights and for greater democracy in China. We were also protesting against the brutal repression the Uyghur people were subjected to.
Following decades of brutal and suppressed policies of the communist China, the situation for the Uyghur people worsened. Chinese authorities cracked down on any expressions of dissent, escalated their efforts to assimilate the Uyghur people and continued their policy of sending millions of Han Chinese to essentially colonize the region. I have dedicated my life to advocating for the rights of the Uyghur people inside and outside East Turkistan. I have been involved in Uyghur advocacy efforts in the USA ever since I have arrived here.
The Chinese government has brutally persecuted the people under different labels for years. Since 2001, Beijing rebranded the effort as a “War on Terrorism.” Today, the entire population of East Turkestan has become the victim of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative as the final solution for the imperialistic Chinese dream of “Made in China 2025”.
A key reason for this is because East Turkistan lies in a geographically important location for Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, as the gateway from China to Central Asia and the rest of the world. The BRI has put Uyghurs homeland at the very center of China’s geopolitical and economic ambitions. It is for this reason, and Xi Jinping’s explicitly assimilatory policies, that the CCP has adopted a strategy of complete control and domination of the Uyghur people.
Dr. Michael Pillsbury points out in his book The Hundred-Year Marathon that Chinese Communist Party leaders are aiming to challenge American leadership in the world. In their minds, “every place could be a battlefield in the future.” Beijing is indeed currently treating every single country in the world as their own battlefield now as they take extraordinary measures to target individuals and whole governments to keep them quiet and passive to the world’s largest mass incarceration of an ethnic minority since the 1940s.
Since April 2017, the situation deteriorated rapidly. Everything that makes the Uyghurs unique has been treated as an abnormality and targeted: language, culture, history, religion and ethnic identity. According to the Chinese ambassador to the US, the Beijing regime is trying to turn Uyghurs into quote-unquote “normal persons”. Today, all “normal religious activities” in Islam are banned, and labelled as “religious extremism,” under the pretext of the “People’s War on Terror.” Under this pretext China has developed a surveillance and police state, complete with DNA collection, ubiquitous cameras, facial-recognition software & GPS tracking devices on vehicles. QR codes on Uyghur homes.
The Associated Press reported recently that according to the Communist Party’s official newspaper, 1.1 million Chinese cadres deployed to live inside Uyghurs’ living rooms, dining areas, and even their bedrooms, and asked their children to spy on them for any expression of disloyalty to the Communist ideologies or any trace of religious expression. Yet, the world is silent. Chinese Communist government is announcing openly to the world, that they are sinifying Islam by changing the core-principles of the religion and getting away with it at the front of the entire world community. How in the world, would Islam or any religion be compatible with communist ideology?
In the last several years China has invested billions of dollars in what is coined as “debt-trap” diplomacy with foreign countries. This includes projects in Kenya, Srilanka, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and the list goes on. But these deals translate to more than money when it comes to foreign diplomacy. China is able to use the economic pressure that it has on these countries in order to manipulate them politically. This manifests itself in many ways, but one of the most alarming ways is influence over the effectiveness of the United Nations. The United Nations was created in 1945 as a means of keeping international peace and security. But with China’s overwhelming influence over key UN members through economic pressure, and the fact that China is the second largest donor to the UN, it has been able to halt criticism of its human rights abuses to a whisper.
Now, as we sit here today, over 2 million Uyghurs are being held against their will by the Chinese government in concentration camps. 2 million people are suffering and are deprived of their basic rights simply because they were born Uyghur. They are subjected to brainwashing aimed at eroding their ties to their Uyghur identity and face torture, enforced disappearance and death if they do not cooperate. They are forced to denounce their religion, learn Mandarin Chinese and swear loyalty to Xi Jinping and the CCP.
They have not been charged with any crime, are not given a fair trial or access to a lawyer. The Chinese government has refused to publish the names, locations and current status of detainees in the camps. Until August 2018, the Chinese government repeatedly claimed that the camps did not exist and only admitted it after the issue was raised in a UN committee and satellite imagery proved that the camps existed. These more than two million innocent people in the concentration camps today, are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters; academics, doctors, University presidents, pop stars, comedians, athletes, teachers, businessmen, farmers and religious leaders, they are the old, the young, the rich and the poor. And the world is silent!
This is a crisis that has struck at the very core of the Uyghur people. China’s policies are ripping families apart, eroding our culture, religion, language and history and dividing generations.
Children have also become a main target of China’s policy of assimilation and social reengineering. The Chinese government is trying to eradicate the Uyghur ethnic identity by targeting the younger generation. While their parents are being detained in the camps, Uyghur children are being taken away to Chinese government run orphanages, where they are indoctrinated to forsake their Uyghur identity and pledge loyalty to the CCP. They have become victims in China’s campaign of assimilation. If something is not done, an entire generation may be deprived of their ancestral language, culture and ethnic identity.
My sister is currently detained in Xinjiang in the Orwellian political education camps which we call concentration camps. She is detained in retaliation for my public advocacy. Since September 11, 2018, my sister is detained in the concentration camp. She is detained in retaliation for my public advocacy. On September 5, 2018, I spoke at one of the Thinktanks about the conditions of the camps, outlining the fate of my in-laws. Six days later, my sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, and my aunt were abducted. I have been a proud citizen of the United States for 25 years, yet the long arm of the Chinese communist regime has extended its reach across borders to ravage my heart by jailing the only close family I have back home. My sister was a retired medical doctor. Both my sister and my aunt are unusual targets. They are not famous; they are not educators, writers or scholars. Neither has traveled to any foreign Muslim country, and they both speak Mandarin Chinese fluently. I say this because Uyghurs are often targeted when they travel to Muslim countries (under the suspicion of “collusion” with “terrorism” or “foreign powers”) or if they cannot speak Mandarin (which is seen by the Chinese central government as a sign either of ignorant backwardness or nationalist rebellion).
The only reason for her abduction is “guilt by association” with me – an American who dared to exercise her freedom of speech in the U.S. I am extremely worried for my sister. I am not sure if she is able to tolerate the harsh conditions of the camps for long and survive when she has been facing food and sleep deprivation, dehydration, forced medication, and physical and mental torture for over 7 months now. This happened to me and countless other Uyghur activists. The Chinese government tries to keep us silent by punishing our families if we speak out. In despite of our loved ones are being targeted, we are continuing our advocacy work. The communist China cannot and will not succeed in their attempts to keep us silent. I will not be silenced.
Like so many other Uyghurs in the US and around the world, my family’s story is not unique. Almost every Uyghur in the US have friends and family detained—sometimes dozens and dozens of family members detained. I have several members of my fellow Uyghur Americans including Dr. Erkin Sidik, a senior scientist at JPL, NASA are here with us tonight and if you ask anyone of them, they have, or they know someone in the concentration camps.
The only crime of my sister, and the other millions of Uyghurs suffering is being Uyghur Muslims. What the Chinese government is doing is crime against humanity, and at this point, it has become about the right to live and the means to survive as human beings for Uyghurs. It challenges basic integrity and the world cannot be silent when over a million Uyghurs and other Muslims are being detained, stripped of their culture, and forced to swear blind loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping.
Beijing’s human rights abuses do not stop in East Turkestan; they terrorize psychologically the entire Uyghur Diaspora. Uyghurs living abroad are in despair. They cannot communicate with their families. They cannot get any information on where their missing relatives are located or even if they are alive or dead. The harsh situation in East Turkestan is affecting their work, schooling, daily activities, emotional states, and health. Helplessness, obscurity, pessimism and depression are growing, and they are suffering from intensely traumatic chronic fear and anxiety. Many young students abroad no longer receive the funds sent by their parents back in East Turkistan for their schooling because the Chinese Government has stopped all money transfers abroad, frozen financial accounts, or simply detained their families. They are facing hardships in their lives and are often unable to continue their education.
Since my family members were detained, I have decided to speak even loudly and more publicly at every chance that I get. I will not stop until my family members and all people arbitrarily detained in the concentration camps are released.
We have done tremendous work over the past years. Through the One Voice, One Step Initiative we introduced under Campaign for Uyghurs, we have mobilized and organized Uyghur women across the world to participate in human rights advocacy and have their voices heard. We have met with high level politicians, organized rallies and put the camps issue firmly on the agenda and in the consciousness of world leaders. This morning, just 11 hours ago, In Washington, I have testified at the US Senate foreign relations subcommittee about this horrendous atrocity and provided recommendations to the lawmakers and the administration. I would like to recognize friends from Ahmadiyya Muslim community here with us tonight, and express my heartfelt thanks to the Congressional Ahmadiyya Caucus, for dedicating this year’s Congressional reception on April 1st, to the Uyghur people. We are making progress.
We will use every opportunity to demand that the Chinese government be held accountable for its crimes against humanity and demand all Uyghurs rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to, due to their humanity!
Although we have seen a growing momentum on the issue, the international has been too slow and too passive on the issue. While politicians discuss geopolitics and economic relations with China, our people are suffering and dying. In the face of China’s power and brutality, we need the international community’s help. States must move beyond rhetoric and take concrete action before it is too late for the Uyghur people.
Today, If we fail to challenge Communist China on this terrible atrocity with the determination to stop it, it would be the beginning of darkness for accountable democracies as totalitarian governments effectively utilize mass surveillance and repression to instill fear at home and abroad, depressing actions even within the free world that we enjoy today. If we do not act soon, China’s debt trap tactics, expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative, and provision of 5G technology to the West will position China to treat the entire world’s population according to its vision for Uyghurs, utilizing the West’s technology for mass surveillance and individualized threats for far more than even ignoring the re-emergence of concentration camps. Just look at what the people of East Turkestan are facing right now and imagine the life and world that you are leaving behind for your children and grandchildren if you do not act to stop it now.
We must hold our leaders accountable and demand that they raise this issue with the Chinese government. We need to let the millions of people who are suffering and arbitrarily detained in East Turkistan that we have not forgotten you and that we will not rest until they are freed. If things are to change, we must all raise our voices.
Today, I appeal to you as the honorable defenders of the democracy and freedom in this GREAT country, lead the world with an action to follow up the vow “never again” to China. Stand with us!
(Rushan Abbas is Founder for Campaign for Uyghurs)
(Mrs. Rushan Abbas, Managing Director and Founder, Campaign for Uyghurs receiving Award for Outstanding Performance- N24 Freedom Fighter Award 2019 – www.nepal24hours.com ‘Integration Through Media’ 9th Annual General Meeting and Award Distribution Ceremony 2019, Artesia, LA, 9th April 2019. Photo: N24)