Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared one day before leaving office that the Chinese government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in its repression of the Uighur population in the Xinjiang province.
The news is especially significant to Ziba Murat, an activist advocating for the liberation of her Uighur mother, Dr. Gulshan Abbas. The public recently learned that the Chinese Communist Party sentenced Abbas in March of 2019 for 20 years in prison on false charges. Despite denial from the CCP, it has been discovered that China’s abuses against the Uighur peoples include imprisonment in reeducation and concentration camps and forced sterilization.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo said. Pompeo’s declaration was the Trump administration’s final word to China in a tense four-year relationship.
Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokeswoman for the CCP, said in January, “Pompeo’s comment on Xinjiang is just another one of his ridiculous lies. Pompeo is a clown … Genocide has never happened in China and will never happen in China.”
Stories about the Uighur camps first began circulating in 2016. Murat’s aunt and Abbas’s sister, Rushan Abbas, became an outspoken advocate for Uighur rights and leader of the Campaign for Uyghurs movement, which caught the CCP’s attention.
“China is run by a dictatorial regime that cannot be treated as a good-faith actor,” Murat said. “The consequences of allowing it to gain power and exercise control internationally is that people are even more oppressed, including U.S. citizens. Only a morally bankrupt regime like China could punish foreign citizens in this manner, by taking their relatives hostage and punishing them by sham trials and false charges.”
In a letter to Murat in December, Pompeo detailed American actions against China for their human rights violations.
“These concrete actions include: visa restrictions on responsible officials, financial sanctions, export restrictions, import restrictions, the release of guidance to businesses, and outreach to universities and businesses about the risks of doing business in Xinjiang,” Pompeo wrote.
The Biden administration named the Uighur issue in China a genocide during its campaign for the White House. “We hope that action will match their words,” Murat said.
Murat says her mother’s sentencing is clear retaliation by the CCP for her aunt’s activism. Abbas’s arrest and sentencing imply that the CCP is punishing families in China due to relatives living freely in the United States.
“I hope that the issue, and in particular the example of my mom’s case, where an innocent person is being punished for U.S. citizens’ exercise of their rights to free speech, will feature as central to any conversation with the Chinese government,” Murat said.
The Chinese MFA confirmed Abbas’s sentencing at a press briefing on Dec. 31, 2020, for the crimes of joining a “terrorist” organization, helping “terrorist” activities, and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social order.”
“We were shocked and heartbroken by this,” Murat said. “My mom is a non-political and kind person, who has spent her life helping people. Everyone loves her. She has this personality which whoever talks to her finds a ray of sunlight, a comfort, she is the most caring and gentle person. How does she deserve 20 years in prison?”
Abbas’s trial and sentencing were under preposterous circumstances. The speed of her detainment, arrest, indictment, closed trial, and sentencing are proof that the Chinese government does not respect their claim to respect and preserve human rights.
“We urge certain politicians in the United States to respect facts and stop fabricating lies and smearing China,” CCP spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a news conference.
“This is not a political agenda, it is an issue of humanity, and of preventing my mother from suffering further,” Murat said.