US: China Retaliates Against Uighur Activists by Imprisoning Relatives

U.S. officials say China is targeting relatives of some Uighur activists with terrorism charges, while intimidating others who raise awareness about the plight of the Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region, Voice of America reported.

Citing a recent Chinese official announcement about sentencing Gulshan Abbas, sister of Uighur-American activist Rushan Abbas, to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges in Xinjiang, Nury Turkel, a commissioner at the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said the Chinese government frequently uses relatives of Uighurs abroad as hostages to intimidate and silence activists.

“Many Uighurs who live overseas continue to live in fear for their safety and the safety of their relatives still in the Uighur region,” Turkel told VOA.

Rushan Abbas said her sister’s imprisonment is a retaliation against her activism in the United States.

“Six days after I had given a speech on a panel at (the) Hudson Institute about China’s abuses against Uighurs in September 2018, my sister was taken from her home by Chinese authorities,” she told VOA, explaining that terrorism is the term China uses when targeting Uighur activists and their families.

USCIRF’s Turkel said that under the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, the U.S. government should impose sanctions on Chinese officials and entities that target U.S. citizens, residents and other individuals living in the United States who expose China’s abusive policies in Xinjiang.

The Uyghur Human Rights Act went into effect in June 2020 as a response to China’s crackdown on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

In a recent statement, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) called on the Chinese government to release Gulshan Abbas.

Chinese officials responded by confirming her prison sentence.

“Gulshan Abbas was sentenced to jail by Chinese judicial authorities for crimes of participating in a terrorist organization, aiding terrorist activities and assembling crowds to disrupt social order,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said during a press conference in late December.