Arun Lakshman/New Delhi
Uyghur activist Rushan Abbas, who is based out of the U.S., highlighting the acute violence faced by the Uyghur Muslims in China, said that Uyghurs are facing genocide and are held by Chinese in concentration camps.
Abbas hails from the Xianging Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. She is the founder and executive director of the organization, Campaign For Uyghurs. She has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the US on the emergence of concentration camps in the Xianging Uyghur Autonomous Region in China as also on the threat of Chinese power in the Eastern Pacific.
Her elder sister Gulshan Abbas was taken hostage by the Chinese from her home in Urimichi in the Xianging Uyghur Autonomous province in September 2018. While the Chinese administration did not admit of taking her as a hostage at first, in December 2020, the Chinese foreign ministry acknowledged that she was under arrest and confirmed that harsh charges were slapped on her sentencing her for 20 years. Rushan and her family don't know whether Gulshan Abbas is alive or not ever since being taken into custody by the Chinese.
In an exclusive interview with IANS, Rushan Abbas spoke on a range of issues being faced by the Uyghurs. Here are excerpts:
Please let us know about the current Uyghur issue?
Abbas: For years now, the Uyghurs have faced an active genocide. Millions of Uyghurs have been held in concentration camps under the guise of 're-education'. Millions more are forced into slavery. Uyghur women's bodies have become the battleground of this genocide while they are subject to forced sterilisation, forced abortion and forced marriages. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) congratulates this effort publicly on the official Twitter account of the Chinese embassy in the US, claiming that their abuses have made Uyghur women 'no longer baby-making machines'. One million Uyghur children have been sent to state-run orphanages.
Beijing's ultra-nationalistic policies combined with racial discrimination and cutting-edge technology in our homeland, have been confirmed, not only through Beijing's own leaked documents time after time, but by hundreds of experts and survivor's testimonies!
Your sister Gulshan Abbas was forcibly taken away by the Chinese government and family doesn't have any information about her. What you feel has happened to her and is there any measure being taken by the human rights movement across the globe on this.
Today, I am doing my advocacy work at the cost of my loving sister's freedom. In September 2018, my sister Gulshan Abbas was taken from her home in Urumchi by the Chinese government as hostage, six days after I spoke at one of the think tanks in Washington DC, exposing China's genocidal policies while outlining the fate of my in-laws. When I raised my sister's case after her disappearance, I was accused by Chinese state media, of stealing someone else's photo and spreading lies about my missing sister. Then, in December 2020, the Chinese Foreign Ministry acknowledged her by name, and confirmed a harsh sentence of 20 years on false charges against her. No trial. No evidence. And till this day, no proof of life and no information on her whereabouts, even prisoners have rights to communicate and have visitation with their loved ones, what kind of prison system doesn't even allow this? She is a retired medical doctor and a kind, peaceful and non-political person. The real purpose of her detention and harsh sentencing has been used as retaliation against me and to send a message to other Uyghurs to keep silent otherwise their loved ones could face similar consequences.
The Uyghur Muslims are facing cultural and religious persecution at the hands of Chinese govt. Please let us know about the ground situation?
Since the Chinese Communist Party's occupation of our homeland in 1949, Uyghurs have gone through periods of harsh policies against our culture and religion and there have been periods of ease. The persecution would generally be related to the banning of our language in schools and government buildings, censorship of cultural and religious texts, banning of the practice of Islam and the complete lack of freedom of expression. However, since 2016 Uyghurs have been facing an active genocide! The extent of the genocide falls in line with article II given under the Genocide convention. In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group; We know from firsthand reports, eye-witness accounts and leaked documents that people die in the camps and prisons due to torture, mal-nourishment and executions.
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; We know from firsthand reports, eye-witness accounts and leaked documents that people go through physical, sexual and mental torture. Prisoners are put through sleep and food deprivation and are injected with foreign substances that put them in a zombie-like state.
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; It has been widely documented that Uyghurs, especially women are forced to marry with the Han Chinese and refusing to so is seen as extremism and can land you in the camps or prisons. China's goal is to breed out or dilute the Uyghur population.
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. We know from firsthand reports, eye-witness accounts and leaked documents that former camp detainees underwent forced sterilisation; whether it be forced implants of IUDs or surgical procedures which ensued having the fallopian tubes tied or the altogether removal of one's uterus and forced abortions. Uyghur children are also forcefully taken away to boarding schools where they are taught to hate their religion and culture and are forced to adopt the Han-Chinese culture and adopt communism as their new religion.
The Chinese and pro China activists across the globe have been putting narratives that your movement has been funded by certain foreign forces. How will you respond to this criticism?
That is a lie. I am an Uyghur American and became a US citizen in 1995. I am exercising my rights under my constitution as an American citizen by advocating for my sister's freedom and for people who are facing genocide.
Is China becoming a world power by crushing the rights of the fellow countrymen?
Forced labor is one of the human rights abuses conducted by China. Uyghurs detained in camps are forced to work in electronic, textile and automotive factories. They endure harsh working conditions, receive little to no pay and are denied freedom. The products coming out of the region are used by major brands including Apple, Amazon, BMW, Nike and Adidas. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that empowers China globally is also a great concern of forced labor where the workers suffer from various abuses of their rights.
The Tian'anmen square massacre has been a major blot to the Chinese globally, still the country marched ahead without any moral scruples. Are the human rights and student movements of China keeping quiet out of fear of such a retribution from the Chinese government?
When I was 18 years old while attending university. I was one of the co-organisers of the first ever student's protest against government policies on December 12, 1985. Historically speaking, student protests can end from students getting suspended and expelled from universities to students being imprisoned or executed by the regime. Any protest that you see in China, means something so serious is going on that people are willing to die fighting for it.
China is into a global confrontation with the US and other world powers over Taiwan. What is your comment on this?
Taiwan is an independent country, China does not see it as such, and there lies the main point of contention. China sees the US as meddling in its internal affairs when it comes to Taiwan. China has threatened to take back Taiwan with brute force for years and the US has vowed to defend Taiwan. It's hard to say what will eventually come of this.
How are the people in Xinjiang province of China living their daily lives?
Since the occupation of East Turkistan in 1949, the government has tried relentlessly to destroy Uyghur culture and religion. Uyghurs have been persecuted under the label of 'Nationalists' during the 50s, 'Counter revolutionaries' during the 60s and 'Separatists' during the 90s. Following the 9-11 tragedy, Communist authorities rebranded the effort as a 'War on Terrorism'. Today the people of East Turkistan have become the victims of Xi Jinping's signature project, 'One Belt, One Road' initiative. The entire region is branded. Punishment is cultural and collective. Millions of people in detention are charged with no crime. China has characterised all political resistance as 'Islamic terrorism', and on that pretext developed a surveillance state built on DNA collection, ubiquitous cameras, facial-recognition software & GPS tracking devices on vehicles. According to the former camp's witnesses and news accounts, so-called 'vocational training' by the regime, in reality, means armed guards, barbed wire, over-crowded rooms, malnutrition, dehydration, poor sanitation. It means being uprooted from home and family. It means stamping out culture and religion. It means forced indoctrination. It means mental and physical abuse.
The militarisation of my homeland persists, and the CCP's tight control over its resources continues. The programs of mass migration continue to shift the demographics of East Turkistan in favour of the Han Chinese, and the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women will ensure this becomes even more disparate. So even with the recognition of many nations and the eyes of the media watching, why does it feel as if the world remains silent?
Millions of Uyghurs detained in camps are subjected to forced labor, torture, physical, mental and sexual abuses. Uyghurs outside the camps are under constant surveillance through Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) to catch any suspicious behaviour. The algorithm collects personal information, tracks movement, monitors personal relations including people with foreign connections and flags individuals with potential 'dissenting behaviour'. Due to this constant surveillance, Uyghurs have no freedom of movement, communications and expression without the fear of detention.
Under the 'Pair-up and become a family program', Uyghurs are forced to pair up with the Han-Chinese as another strategy to try and assimilate the Uyghurs. The way this program works is, each Uyghur is paired with a Han-Chinese person of the opposite gender and are forced to 'eat, cook, learn, study and sleep together'. These interactions are to be documented in ledgers and photographed as evidence of social harmony between the two ethnic groups.
In fact, the region was under total lockdown for more than three months under China's so-called Zero-Covid Policy, with no access to food and medical care. Their doors were locked and chained by the officials, roads blocked with fences which caused people to be burnt to death when the fire broke in November 2022.
The Rohingya Muslim issue has been highlighted globally but the trauma being faced by you has not been highlighted as much. What is your remark on that?
One reason is that the CCP literally buys silence. There is no better example than by looking at the BRI (the Belt and Road Initiative) that some of you may have heard of. It is an ambitious plan to develop two new trade routes connecting China with the rest of the globe. But the initiative symbolises something far greater. China's policies are disguised as investments and to support countries in the Balkans, Middle East and East Asia in need of financial life vests. This allows China to grow their political clout, and to buy silence. The BRI follows the old Marco Polo route - a maritime silk road connecting China, Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe.
The BRI initiative involves 70 countries and proposes overland routes, roads and railways through Central Asia. Examples include building ports, dams, airports, skyscrapers, roads and bridges. China calls the initiative a "bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future." The goal is to make participating nations dependent on the Chinese economy. If they are, China can control them like marionettes on strings. As the expression goes, you cannot bite the hand that feeds you. In this way, nearly half the world is muzzled by their economic dependency on China. This is why nations-particularly Muslim ones- are silent. They value profit over human life. The slaughter of Rohingya Muslims is viewed by the world as it is an atrocity committed by the Myanmar government. Although, Beijing is behind it. Every area China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) runs through, leaves a trail of Muslim blood behind. Myanmar, the slaughter of Rohingya Muslims has been driven by China's Belt and Road Initiative. This conflict has been fuelled by China pressuring their leader to push out the Muslims in the area to make way for the BRI.
What you feel will be the logical conclusion to the issue being faced by you, I mean Uyghurs?
This is a complicated question. Logically, no nation of people should be going through a genocide. But as it stands, based on the current fundamental human rights that every country should be abiding by is that once a government, in this case China, fails to do so or deliberately does not adhere to certain standards, they should be held responsible by world bodies like the UN, through sanctions, resolutions and other means. There is a reason why authoritarian regimes continue to commit human rights atrocities and that is because there isn't enough pressure on them to stop committing these horrific acts. Yes, the Chinese is responsible for the Uyghur genocide, but the rest of the world is as much to blame if they do not take tangible steps to stop the genocide and hold the regime responsible. Genocide, slavery and crimes against humanity are not China's internal affairs. It's the international community's responsibility to solve this issue and protect Uyghur people from the Chinese regime.
There are news reports that several top ranking businessmen including Jack Ma has been facing discrimination in China. What would you say?
No one is safe in China. The CCP government has no respect for anyone and feels threatened by any successful individuals like Jack Ma. Thus, I am not surprised that top ranking business people are also facing discrimination in China.
What China is doing to people in China is not staying within China's borders. Beijing is attempting to export their worldview and authoritarian system globally. The Chinese regime is the enemy of freedom and democracy, enemy of humanity, and enemy of any religion or original thought. What China's doing to my people, to Tibetans & Hong Kongers, is a preview of what we will see, should we allow China to continue its crimes. If we allow China 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.