China's Intensifying Crackdown on Uighurs Extends Overseas

Uighur American activist Rushan Abbas protests the Chinese government's crackdown on Uighurs last month in Switzerland. She believes her aunt and sister are among the detained. @Uighur American activist Rushan Abbas

December 5, 2018

Over one million Uighurs are being detained in the Xinjiang region of northwest China — and Rushan Abbas's aunt and sister are likely among them.

Abbas is a Uighur American activist who believes the Chinese government detained her relatives because of her human rights work for Uighurs, a Muslim minority group. She is among a growing number of Uighurs living abroad who are caught up in China's most sweeping detention campaign since the Cultural Revolution.

The Uighurs are a predominantly Turkic Muslim population that the government perceives as subversive for maintaining a distinct identity, language, and culture. The Chinese government claims they are held in "re-education camps" to combat extremism. But human rights groups and Western news organizations have reported brutal methods like torture and starvation are being used to sever their ties to Islam. Uighurs in Xinjiang are also subject to extreme surveillance.

U.S. officials are weighing measures to better defend Uighurs in China. On Nov. 14, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio introduced legislation to sanction Chinese officials and state companies involved in Uighur detentions. Yesterday, a State Department official said there are "possibly more than two million" Uighurs held in the camps since April 2017, based on U.S. intelligence assessments. The Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. did not respond to requests for comment.

Rushan Abbas, the managing director of the Campaign for Uighurs, joins the program to share her story, provide an update on China's intensifying crackdown on Uighurs and to weigh in on the American government's response so far. 

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