China Is Holding My Uyghur Mother Prisoner. Will President Biden Say Her Name?
Ziba Murat, daughter of Dr. Gulshan Abbas
The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing is well underway. Millions of people will likely tune in to see the spectacle that China has orchestrated—everything from the choreographed pageantry of the Opening Ceremonies to the man-made snow blanketing the ski slopes. China wants the Olympics to project its economic might and global dominance. But for me, the images on the screen will be a bleak reminder of China’s oppression and persecution, on a very personal level.
I will witness the Games through my unique perspective as an Uyghur-American, but also as the daughter of Dr. Gulshan Abbas, a Uyghur retired doctor and peaceful public servant who spent decades caring for the members of her community until she suddenly disappeared from her home in Urumqi in 2018.
Since the day she vanished, my mother has been detained by the Chinese government in one of what it calls its “re-education camps.” But the world has come to recognize them as 21st century concentration camps.
We have not heard my mother’s voice since 2018, and despite my family’s pleas for even a simple update on her situation, we have received little to no information from the Chinese government. We do not even have proof that she is still alive. It is only hope and my fervent wishes that she will one day meet her three-year-old granddaughter that keeps me moving forward with the fight to see her freed.
My mother is not in prison because she is a criminal. She is in prison for one simple fact: The Chinese Communist Party can’t see past her ethnicity. She is in prison for the crime of being Uyghur.
The Biden Administration showed moral leadership by refusing to send official representation to the Beijing Olympics and encouraging other countries to join the diplomatic boycott in protest of China’s human rights abuses. But the administration can and must do more to stand up for individual Uyghurs like my mother, who sit behind bars for no reason other than their ethnicity or association with family in the United States.
The Chinese government may dismiss the accusation that it is carrying out genocide against my people and disregard international calls to close the camps and free all those detained Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. But when we know the names and stories of unjustly imprisoned individuals, the perpetrators should at the very least face intense pressure from the U.S. to release those individuals, especially the family members of the American citizens.
It’s a relatively small act for the leader of the free world to say the name Gulshan Abbas. It could change the course of my mother’s life.
Last September, in his remarks on National Grandparents Day, President Biden said, “There is no greater joy than spending time with our grandchildren; they are the love of our lives and the life of our love.” When I think about the fact that my mother was robbed from the chance to hold my daughter, I can barely breathe for the ache in my chest. Still, I cling to the words that my mother taught me: “Hope brings miracles.”
I will never give up hope that I will see my mother again and she will finally meet her granddaughter. Nor will I give up hope that President Biden will be moved to use his power and influence to do more to help free my mother and end this human suffering.
Perhaps when the President sees images from the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps as he holds a beloved grandchild close, he will remember the story of Dr. Gulshan Abbas and think of her clinging to hope and a belief in miracles, even from within the walls of her prison cell. And then perhaps he will find a way to make a miracle happen for her.
Ziba Murat is the daughter of Dr. Gulshan Abbas. Follow her on Twitter @ziba116.