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'We will talk later'

The last conversation Ziba Murat had with her mother, Dr Gulshan Abbas, was on the 9th of September 2018. Her baby was three months old; Murat sent her mother a picture of her sleeping. She replied: “You should get some rest while the baby is sleeping. We will talk later.”  

Later never came, her mother vanished.  

Ziba Murat grew up in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, with her younger sister, father, and mother. She had a relatively stable childhood. Both her mother and grandmother were doctors. “My mother and grandmother had the most influence on me growing up,” she says. “They both emphasised the importance of education, becoming good human beings and doing good deeds.”  

At the beginning of 2016, Murat recalls first hearing about mass detention in rural cities of Xinjiang - the information came from overseas sources. 

Dr Gulshan Abbas was arrested and charged with suspected terrorism – the date of her arrest is yet to be confirmed; it is suspected to be roughly around the 10th of September 2018. Authorities overseas have struggled to gain information on her arrest. 

In February 2019, Hong Kong Free Press released an article on Abbas’s arrest, confirming she was detained.

Wang Wenbin, a member of China’s foreign ministry, told reporters: “Gulshan Abbas has been sentenced according to law by Chinese judicial organs for taking part in organised terrorism, aiding terrorist activities and seriously disrupting social order.” 

Murat is still unaware of her mother’s condition. She describes her mother as: “an intellectual who speaks fluent Chinese, she does not have a criminal record.” Her mother had not traveled to any Muslim-majority countries, nor did she have any contact or connection with anyone living within them. There is no reason why such visits of contacts should be held against anyone, but among Xinjiang’s Uyghur population, this has been a primary cause of arrest.  

In May 2020, Radio Free Asia confirmed Murat's mother's detention through her former place of employment but disclosed no further details. In late December 2020, Murat was informed by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that in March 2019, her mother had been sentenced to 20 years in prison. Her mother appears to have been charged under false allegations, as with many others. 

Murat describes her mother's disappearance as: “a typical hostage case in which the Chinese government takes the family members of foreign citizens as a retaliation.”  

The family believes Dr Gulshan Abbas’s sentencing is due to many family members being in the United States. Abbas’s sister is also a prominent human rights activist. On the 3rd of September 2018, she spoke at a think-tank event on the mass imprisonment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Six days later, Abbas went missing. 

Murat waits for a phone call or text from her mother every day. It has taken a massive toll on her and her younger sister. As new parents, they always imagined sharing the experience with their mother. "We wanted her to give us guidance and be a part of our life's raising our kids,” she says.’ The Chinese government took her away from us. They are depriving people of their families and their happiness.” 

“The minute I could not reach my mother, I thought the worst - she is in the camps. It is not like her not to answer messages or phone calls. I struggled to think clearly for months after her disappearance. I could not believe what had happened.”  

Since Dr Gulshan Abbas's arrest, Murat has limited contact with her father. She is scared for his safety and that he, too, may be taken one day. Her child now needs to grow up with missing grandparents due to the Chinese government's policies against Uyghurs.  

Ziba Murat has been working with Christian Solidarity Worldwide (a human rights organisation) for the past two years and recently appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Council again to plead her mother's release. “I appeal once again to the Chinese Government, which has ignored our pleas for over two years,” she said in her statement. “Give me back what is rightfully mine, my mother.” However, despite her case being widely known to U.S. government officials, little progress has been made. 

“Listen to those individual cases. Talk about it.” she implores. “This is not just some ‘violation’ China is committing; this is happening at a human cost. People are dying. We are witnessing families being torn apart; kids are growing up in orphanages even though their parents are still alive. Please do not ignore these stories, we are evidence of this crime against humanity China is committing. What else does the world need?” 

Edited by: Kaiyah Ellison

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Tags: #China #HumanRights #UyghurFreedom


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