My aunt and sister in China have vanished. Are they being punished for my activism?

Uighurs and their supporters rally across the street from United Nations headquarters in New York, March 15, 2018.

By Rushan Abbas
October 19 at 12:18 PM

Rushan Abbas is a former Uighur service journalist with Radio Free Asia.

The Chinese government has imprisoned about 1 million people, without any pretense of trial, in “reeducation camps” in the country’s far west. It is now clear that this is part of a huge campaign to silence and intimidatethe local Uighur population — a group to which I also belong (though I have lived in the United States for the past 29 years). The scale of this effort is extraordinary: Chinese security services are using sophisticated cameras, facial-recognition technology and DNA samples to keep track of the entire population.

Americans and Europeans are only just beginning to wake up to the astonishing extent of China’s new gulag. But for me, this story is all too personal. My 56-year-old sister, Gulshan Abbas, lives in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (or East Turkestan, as we refer to it). Her two daughters live in the United States. They kept in touch with their mother using WeChat, calling every few days, but starting on Sept. 11, they couldn’t get through. At first they thought her phone was broken or that she was sick. Days passed by without news. Then they started to imagine the worst: Could she have been taken to the camps?