US demands release of Uighur doctor sentenced to 20 years’ jail

The call to release Gulshan Abbas, who was convicted on terrorism-related charges, came as China urged Washington to halt ‘lies, smears’.

Gulshan's sister Rushan Abbas said the charges stemmed from activism by her and her brother Rishat Abbas, both of whom are based in the United States [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

The United States called on Wednesday for the release of a Uighur Muslim medical doctor whose relatives say was sentenced to 20 years in jail in China because of family members’ human rights activism in the United States.

The daughter of Gulshan Abbas told a briefing organised with the bipartisan US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) that the family had recently learned her mother received the sentence in March last year on terrorism-related charges after disappearing in September 2018.

In Beijing on Thursday, a foreign ministry spokesman said Abbas was sentenced for the crimes of joining a “terrorist” organisation, helping terrorist activities and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social order”.

“We urge certain politicians in the United States to respect facts and stop fabricating lies and smearing China,” the spokesman, Wang Wenbin, told a news conference.

The daughter, Ziba Murat, called the charges “preposterous”. Gulshan’s sister, Rushan Abbas, said they stemmed from activism by her and her brother, Rishat Abbas, both of whom are based in the US.

“We have committed to working to defend our people’s rights and advocate for justice, and now our sister is denied justice as a punishment,” Rushan said.

‘No respect for human rights’

In a tweet, the US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, Robert Destro, said Gulshan Abbas must be released.

“Her forcible disappearance, detainment and harsh sentencing by the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is evidence of a family suffering the consequences of speaking out against a government that has no respect for human rights,” he said.

Ziba Murat said she could not reveal the source of the information on the sentencing to protect their identity. “We only learned that she is sentenced to 20 years, and we’re trying to get more information.”

“My mom is a medical professional, non-political, kind person who has spent her life helping people,” she said, adding that her mother was in fragile health and suffered from multiple conditions, including high blood pressure.

The CECC chairman, Democratic Representative James McGovern, called the punishment of an innocent family member in what he said was an attempt to silence free expression “morally reprehensible”.

He said it was just part of a “mass persecution” of Uighurs in China that has involved the detention of as many as 1.8 million people in internment camps, forced labour and other abuses.

China has been criticised at the United Nations Human Rights Council by countries including Australia and the United States for the arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

According to witnesses and human rights activists, at least a million Uighurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities are being held in detention camps.

China has rejected the criticism, and says the camps are vocational schools where Uighurs learn new skills. It says all those who attended have “graduated” and gone home, but access to the camps is restricted and it is not possible to independently verify whether all have closed.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies