US demands release of Uighur doctor who family say is sentenced to 20 years' jail

UN experts and advocates say at least a million ethnic Uighurs have been detained at some point in camps in China's Xinjiang region. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States called on Wednesday (Dec 30) for the release of a Uighur Muslim medical doctor who relatives say was sentenced to 20 years jail in China because of family members' human rights activism in the United States.

The daughter of Gulshan Abbas told a briefing organized 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.

The daughter, Ms Ziba Murat, called the charges "preposterous." Gulshan's sister, Ms Rushan Abbas, said they stemmed from activism by her and her brother Rishat Abbas, both of whom are based in the United States.

"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," Ms Rushan said.

In a tweet, the US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, Mr 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.

Ms 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 Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond when asked for details of Gulshan Abbas' status.

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 detention of as many as 1.8. million in internment camps, forced labor and other abuses.

UN experts and advocates say at least a million ethnic Uighurs have been detained at some point in camps in China's Xinjiang region.

China calls the heavily guarded centers educational and vocational institutes, and says all those who attended have"graduated" and gone home. Access to the camps is restricted and it is not possible to independently verify whether all have closed.

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