One Daughter’s Search for Her Mother—China’s Efforts to Separate Families

Today will mark two years since authorities in Xinjiang, China kidnapped retired physician, Dr. Gulshan Abbas. Her family has not seen nor spoken with her.

Ziba Murat and much of her extended family no longer lives in Xinjiang, China, where she grew up, but in the United States. She moved out to join them for college.

“It was very nice times (growing up in Xinjiang), nothing like it is now,” Ziba said in an interview with The Daily Citizen. “I came here (to the U.S.) in 2005, it’s been almost 15 years. This was my grandma’s wish, she wanted to send me to the U.S. to study. I learned English, went to university, and now I’m working and have a daughter.”

She wanted her mother, Dr. Abbas, to eventually join them. But in 2017, Ziba started to hear about the growing police state in the region.

“Uyghur activists here were starting to post here about how they’re building camps in really remote areas and starting to put people in camps and increase security,” Ziba said. “I started to worry about my mom because she lives alone, she doesn’t have any immediate family in the country, most of us are here in the U.S. Her two brothers and her sister.”

“When she visited in 2016, we asked her to stay, me and my sister. ‘Just stay,’ we told her, ‘we’re both here and you have a 10-year visa anyways.’ She’s like, ‘No, I can come back. The house is there, and I have to take care of it.’ She wouldn’t listen. She went back, and, as these stories started coming out, our concern grew.”

“Everything was normal until September 10, 2018. That’s when I last talked to her on the WeChat App. We were talking, and it was nighttime for me and the morning for her. We had a brief conversation. I sent her my baby’s picture—she was three months old at the time—her comment was, ‘If she’s sleeping, you should get some rest.’ That was it.”

Her family’s nightmare began shortly after.

“The next day I can’t reach her, she didn’t respond to my calls, messages or video chats. It’s like she just vanished,” Ziba said. “It wasn’t like her to not respond to my messages because she knows we would get worried if she doesn’t respond. I first thought maybe her phone died somewhere and she doesn’t have a charger, or she was at someone’s house and left her phone. It seemed impossible that she would be targeted because she’s a medical doctor and very well educated. She’s not an extremist, as the Uyghur people are often labeled by Chinese authorities.”

In order to oppress the Uyghur population and eliminate their ethnic, religious and cultural identity, the Chinese Communist Party has labeled the people as terrorists and declared that the current genocide is the country’s “war on terror.”

“After a couple days, then the fear started to settle in. I was so scared and terrified since we had heard that they were putting people in camps. I immediately started to reach out to our friends and relatives, and nobody would talk to me because they were so scared to talk to anyone overseas. It was scary. I can’t describe it. From that day, it’s like my life has been turned upside down. All we do is search for her.”

In the initial months after her mother’s disappearance, Ziba remained silent, afraid raising awareness would potentially put her mother in greater danger. But as time dragged on, she knew she had to do something. Finally, almost two years after Dr. Abbas’ disappearance, Ziba and her aunt’s activism finally resulted in some news from Radio Free Asia. Her mother had been detained.

“Can you imagine learning your mom’s detention through a news outlet? We’ve seen paper regarding her detention. No more information about her specific location or condition, it’s very frustrating,” Ziba explained.

It’s especially concerning since there is no reason for authorities to detain Dr. Abbas. She’s highly educated and would have no reason for “reeducation” or “vocational training,” which is part of the reasoning China gives the West about why the Uyghur people and other minorities have been sent to concentration camps.

“She’s a very gentle and quiet person. That’s why we were all so shocked that a person like her was targeted and placed in a camp or prison, we don’t know the reason. Nobody would give us any information. We’ve been trying to contact the Chinese Ambassador here. Everybody is silent,” Ziba shared.

“I will not give up. This will continue until I see her here with us.”

Ziba has started a petition, asking people to sign in support of her mother’s release.

Photo from Xue Bing/REUTERS


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