Gulshan Abbas, a Uyghur doctor from northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) who went missing after her Washington-based sister spoke out against Beijing’s policies in the region, has been confirmed detained nearly two years after her disappearance.
The retiree, who formerly worked at the Nurbagh Petroleum Hospital in the regional capital Urumqi, disappeared along with an aunt in September 2018—days after her sister Rushan Abbas took part in a panel on China at the Hudson Institute in Washington exposing conditions in the XUAR’s network of internment camps, where up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have been held since April 2017.
Rushan Abbas has maintained that her sister and aunt were detained as part of what she said was a bid to silence her and stop her activism within the U.S., where she serves as director for the Campaign for Uyghurs exile group.
In the 21 months since her disappearance, the U.S.-based family members of Gulshan Abbas—who include two other siblings and two daughters—have worked relentlessly to determine her whereabouts and why she may have been targeted by authorities.
Calls to friends, relatives, and local authorities in the XUAR have yielded little information, as have several letters to the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
RFA’s Uyghur Service has spoken with several police officers in Urumqi who said they had no knowledge of Gulshan Abbas, as well as one who responded to questions about her by saying that he was restricted from commenting due to “rules of confidentiality.”
“These things are not within the scope of what we can discuss,” the officer added.
RFA also recently spoke with a staffer of the Nurbagh Petroleum Hospital who said Gulshan Abbas “doesn’t work here” and that no employees had ever been detained in internment camps.
But a Han Chinese employee of the hospital’s ruling Communist Party Cadres Office confirmed to RFA that Gulshan Abbas had been detained, although she was unsure of why or where the retired doctor had been taken.
“We have studied and seen some of the archival materials and so forth about her, but I don’t know exactly which department took her away,” said the employee, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The employee said her department had been notified about Gulshan Abbas’s detention in an announcement circulated by higher-level officials, but that she was unsure whether she had been placed in an internment camp.
Vow to keep searching
Gulshan Abbas’s daughter Ziba Murat, who has campaigned widely for her mother on social media, told RFA that she would not stop working to find her and get her released.
“The evening of Sept. 10, 2018 was the last time I spoke with my mom, but as of now we still haven’t gotten any clear information about her,” she said.
Murat expressed concern about her mother’s health, noting that she has high blood pressure.
“What could [authorities] possibly give as the reason to lock up and detain such a physically weak person for 21 months?” she asked.
“In the meantime, my younger sister had a baby. My mom doesn’t even know. It’s really difficult, but we can’t give up. I’m going to do everything I can until my mother is free.”
Rushan Abbas told RFA that the way her sister was targeted is typical of how XUAR authorities “attempt to get Uyghur activists to stop their campaigns and to punish them.”
“Six days after my talk, they kidnapped my sister as though they were bandits—not a government, but bandits,” she said.
“All Uyghur activists living outside of China and working for the Uyghur cause are experiencing this sort of ransom-holding, this revenge-seeking. It’s a widespread situation.”
But she warned that such measures would ultimately backfire and provide a record of Beijing’s policies of persecution in the region that will lead to a reckoning.
“In their attempts to exact their revenge on us, the Chinese government is handing us even more powerful truths and evidence—an authentic, living testimony—that we can use to inspire the world to pay closer attention to our cause,” she said.