Rushan Abbas, Opinion contributor Published 5:00 a.m. ET May 9, 2019 | Updated 4:57 p.m. ET May 9, 2019
The world is finally waking up to the ongoing and terrifying violations of human rights against the Uighurs — a Muslim minority in Northwest China. My own family is victim to these violations. As both an American citizen and a Uighur, this disaster has ravaged my heart, and shaken me to my very core.
Last September, six days after I spoke about China’s human rights abuses at the Hudson Institute, Chinese police abducted my sister and aunt from their homes. My family members, who both live in Xinjiang but hundreds of miles apart, were abducted on the same day, as a tactic to silence me and stop my activism in the United States. The government has seized the family members of other Uighur Americans who speak out about their human rights violations — attempting to control and silence us in the United States, as they control and silence our families in China.
My Uighur American niece and I found out about the abductions through some of our remaining contacts in Xinjiang, but members of my family are not the only ones suffering.
China’s long history of repression
I grew up within the rich culture of the Uighurs, in a region occupied by Communist China known as Xinjiang (also known as East Turkestan). I witnessed the repression of the Cultural Revolution at a young age — my grandfather was jailed and my father was taken to a reeducation camp. As a student in Xinjiang University, I was one of the organizers in pro-democracy demonstrations in the mid- and late-1980s. When I came to America in 1989, I brought my ideals and experiences with me. Since then, I have consistently campaigned for the human rights of my people by dedicating much of my life to writing and advocating on their behalf.
In Xinjiang, our mosques and religious sites have been bulldozed by a government committed to eradicating our culture. Parents are banned from naming their children traditional Muslim names, and Muslim men are forced to shave their beards. Uighurs are threatened even after death: In an attempt to eradicate our burial and funeral traditions, the Chinese government is building crematoriums.
As many as 3 million people, out of a population of about 11 million, may be imprisoned in concentration camps in Xinjiang, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The Chinese government claims that these facilities (there could be as many as 44 camps) are vocational training centers teaching courses such as tailoring, electronic assembly and the Chinese language. But the truth is these are nothing less than modern concentration camps, complete with armed guards, forced labor and barbed-wire fences. Inside, prisoners are indoctrinated with Communist Party propaganda, forced to renounce Islam, and have been forced to eat pork and drink alcohol in violation of their religious beliefs.