Overseas Uyghurs struggle to locate relatives in Xinjiang prisonsSeptember 21, 2021
When Ziba Murat last saw her mother, retired Uyghur doctor Gulshan Abbas, at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport in 2016, she begged her not to return to Xinjiang, where reports were emerging about the detention of ethnic minorities.
“My heart started to beat so fast. I told her not to go,” said Murat. “We had already started to hear about the camps being built, but she thought she was safe.”
Shortly after returning home, Abbas told her daughter that her passport was confiscated, without providing details. Murat said their daily video calls became tense, and at times, Abbas would shake her head and cry for no apparent reason.
“I feel so guilty, I think she was trying to send me messages,” said Murat in a phone interview with Reuters.
Murat said she last spoke to her mother on September 10, 2018. The day after, Abbas stopped picking up her phone.
Abbas disappeared six days after her sister, Rushan Abbas, a high profile U.S-based Uyghur activist, spoke on a public panel at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, about the unfolding internment campaign in Xinjiang. Murat and Rushan Abbas believe the events are linked, which Reuters was unable to independently confirm.
Murat says the only official confirmation of her mother’s arrest is a one-line statement made by a Chinese Foreign Ministry official at a 2020 media conference in Beijing, who said Abbas had been sentenced on crimes of terrorism and “disrupting social order”.
Murat said they had earlier received credible information from a non-official source whom she declined to identify that Abbas had been sentenced to 20 years. China has not publicly confirmed the sentence length and China’s foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not respond to requests on the sentence length.
When Reuters visited the former family home still owned by her mother in Urumqi in May, the door was still sealed shut with police tape that bore the name of a police bureau in Artux, a region near the Kazakh border over 1,000 km (600 miles) from Urumqi.
“Report to the community office if you ever return,” read a notice on the door.
Murat is one of eight Uyghur people who told Reuters they have spent years searching for information on relatives who were detained and have since been charged and imprisoned in Xinjiang.
For five of the six detained people, relatives said they have received no official information at all on the location of their loved ones or the length of their prison terms.
There is no publicly available documentation on the trials or sentencing of any of the detained people on China’s judicial websites, according to the relatives and Reuters’ checks.