When the Government Takes Your Family Members, One Woman’s Fight to Find Her Sister

Rushan Abbas hasn’t seen her sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, in two years.

A retired physician, Dr. Abbas should have been able to live the rest of her life in relative peace. But things in Xinjiang or East Turkistan, where Dr. Abbas lived, were changing.

In 2014, the Chinese Communist government started a brutal campaign of oppression on the Uyghur people, a cultural and ethnic minority in the country that practices Islam. A growing police state in the region resulted in an extensive surveillance system, including identifying families through a query code assigned to their doors and an app that tracks every move, website and communication. Before long, individuals and entire families started to disappear, in an act most now consider genocide.

“The first concentration camp was built under the Strike Hard campaign in 2014, and then in 2017 it grew to a massive scale and we heard over a million people were taken to the camps,” Rushan Abbas, founder and executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs, said in an interview with The Daily Citizen. “That’s when I heard that my husband’s entire family disappeared. My father-in-law, mother-in-law, and three of my sisters-in-law, their husbands, and fourteen of his nieces and nephews all disappeared.”

In the last couple of years, thousands of Uyghur individuals and families across the world have lost communication with loved ones in the region. Those that are part of the Uyghur diaspora, including Abbas, started to speak out.

“I tried to bring some attention to this situation and what’s happening. In the spring of the 2018, we organized the One Voice, One Step initiative to get some attention on these atrocities by organizing demonstrations and trying to get media attention,” Abbas said. “One Voice, One Step was led by Uyghur women around the world. In one day, 14 countries and 18 cities protested against the illegal detention of the Uyghurs in concentration camps.”

“Then I started to speak about the situation in different platforms, and one of them was the Hudson Institute (entitled China’s ‘War on Terrorism’ and the Xinjiang Emergency),” Abbas said. “I was one of the panelists in September 2018. And I talked about the conditions of the camps and the fate of my in-laws.”

Just days later, on September 11, 2018, Rushan’s sister Dr. Gulshan Abbas disappeared.

“My own sister, a retired medical doctor, she was abducted six days after my speech here in America,” Abbas said. “As an American citizen, I was practicing my constitutional right here, yet my sister became a victim and paid the price. It has been almost two years now, we have almost no information on her.”

At this time, Rushan has no idea where her sister is, just that she’s been detained, likely for “reeducation” purposes.

“The Radio Free Asia Uyghur service, after months and months and almost a couple of years of trying to find out where she is by calling the police and the neighborhood watch, anybody they can think of,” she said. “Finally, in early June, they confirmed that she had been detained by one of the employees from where she used to work.”

When attending a United Nations Human Rights Council event in Geneva, Switzerland, Rushan carried her sister’s picture on a sign that read, “Where is my sister? She is a medical doctor—she does not need vocational training.”

As China moves towards a more authoritarian regime under the charismatic leadership of Xi Jinping, free speech across the country has increasingly been restricted. To prevent people outside the country from sharing what they know, family members and relatives can be targeted as a way to punish and control those who are brave enough to speak out.

This process leaves family members concerned and desperate for news of their relatives.

“It’s almost two years now, I’m getting really worried for her,” Rushan said. “Her health needs constant attention, she needs to take medicine and has high blood pressure. I can’t sleep at night. I wake up in the middle of the night and think about her.”

Please pray for Dr. Gulshan Abbas and others that have been unlawfully detained due to their ethnicity and religion in Xinjiang, China due to the brutal policies of the Communist party.

Photo from the U.S. Embassy Vienna

 

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