Abdulhakim Idris is a human rights activist and the husband of the well-known advocate for Uyghurs’ rights, Rushan Abbas. He does not know where his mother is.
by Abdulhakim Idris
It was April 25, 2017, when I last heard your voice.
Today, it has been 1095 days. 3 years since our last phone conversation. I remember your trembling voice when you told me not to call you anymore.
When we met in Germany in 2001, you told me several times, “My son, we have seen all that we could see, and we are getting on in years. We fear no one but God. You should follow the path you have chosen for yourself.” I know you, mother. I know your courage. What could have happened that so frightened you the way it did that day? What could have forced a mother to tell her own son not to call?
Since I arrived in the United States in 2010, I would call you daily. I left home in 1982, when I was still too young to understand many things. When I went to the underground religious school in Hotan, it meant that I could not help you with the household chores or fulfill my responsibilities to my family as a young adult.
When I left to go study abroad in 1986, you gave me all your life savings to take with me. Unbeknownst to you, my dear mother, in 1989, during our Hajj in Arafat we had a discussion with other Uyghur students studying abroad about the next steps after graduation. We were seeking answers about what we might do for our motherland: what might be the most beneficial? The decision was made to migrate to the Western democratic countries. Without your permission, I came to Germany with my friends on September 9, 1990 and settled there. I took the first practical step in the line of “departing the homeland for the sake of it.” Even though I was getting further away from you physically, spiritually I was so close to you, mother.
I still live with the painful reminiscence of the day that you said not to call. It had already been over a year since my relationship with my siblings was cut off to protect them. And now I had lost contact with you as well. I still remember, after you hung up the phone, how I just stood still. My head hung low and tears welled up in my eyes. I was surrounded by a strange feeling of sorrow as a mixture of grief and eternal separation was taking over my soul.
I already knew that as a result of this continuing oppression my brother, Abdurehim, was enslaved by an unwelcome Han Chinese family. They were blatant impostors who had come forcibly into your home as “relatives” under the government’s “double relative” program. I had asked you once, “Are those shameless guests still there?” You would only deeply sigh and say nothing.
Ever since our homeland was occupied in 1949 by the Communist regime, the Chinese government had always attempted to break the prestige and pride of our family. They confiscated the horses and property of my grandfather, and continued with demolishing our palatial courtyards and destroying our garden paradise. You did not react then the way you did this time. Now this viciousness, shame, and dishonor has broken into our nest, our home, our last stronghold. Is it this that has broken you, mother? Has it made you miserable that my hard-working and patient father is so helpless? Have the abuses my sisters are facing and my altruistic brother Abdurehim’s slave-like torment made you despair? Did the unknown fate of your innocent grandchildren scare you to such an extent as to cut off contact with me?
I know that you know very well how to endure hardships and calamities, mother. What kind of cruelty is it that has caused my angelic mother to be forced to refrain from screaming? East Turkistan, a cradle of civilization, has fallen into darkness.
Since the day that I lost contact with you, I have been devastated and astounded by the pain. Shortly after, I started to become quiet. While I was in one place, my mind was in another. Sometimes, I was overwhelmed by frustration and annoyance. There have been times that I have lost my senses. My spirits began to drop.
After more than a hundred days, a relative sent me a message and informed me that my brother Abdurehim had been sentenced to 21 years in prison and that all my sisters had been thrown into the concentration camps. They continued and told me that the fate of my parents was unknown. At the end of the message, I was informed that the door to your house was locked and sealed. When I asked about your grandchildren, I was told that no one knew where they were. I still remember how I felt at that moment. It was as if I were on the verge of my own demise, and this news felt as if it would rob me of my last breath. I was overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. News began to circulate that many of my friends’ relatives were also taken to the camps.
I remember that once you said to me: “My son, if one day in the future, the borders are closed and if we lose contact, you can rest assured of our situation. You take care of your own family and do not worry about us.” I did not understand why you said that at that time, but now I have grasped the meaning of your words, mother. How wise of you to foresee what was coming for our homeland.
During all this time, the only thing that I could do each day was to think about you: you were constantly in my deepest thoughts and in my heart. Your memories, your voice, and your face were always with me, no matter where I was or what I was doing. The worry and despair were taking over my life. The feeling of being unable to know where you were, what sort of horror that you and dad might be living through, and the feeling of helplessness… all of this was leaving me with extreme emotional distress.
The evil communist Chinese government has deprived you and millions of innocent Uyghur brothers and sisters of human dignity. They have forced lives to be spent in prisons and concentration camps. We have tried to the best of our ability to tell the world. We cooperated with the World Uyghur Congress and the Campaign for Uyghurs was recently established by us, as the platforms to end this evil.
On September 5, 2018, nearly 500 days after our last phone conversation, your daughter-in-law participated in a panel discussion at one of America’s prestigious thinktanks. She talked about the disappearance of our family while pointing out the horrific conditions of the camps and the Orwellian-style complete police state that East Turkistan had become. She called on the United States government and the international community to act. Six days later, the Chinese government abducted her sister Gulshan Abbas, who is a retired medical doctor in Urumchi. They also abducted her 60-year-old aunt in Artush to retaliate for Rushan’s activism.
During these difficult times, my devoted, courageous wife Rushan has been by my side. She has been not merely a soulmate to me; she has also become a best friend and companion in the journey of activism. We, as husband and wife, have continued to explore the path of salvation for our people while we try to be a voice for the voiceless and advocate for the defenseless, innocent Uyghurs. However, at the point when I lost contact with you, millions of people were being thrown into prisons and concentration camps, and the international community in this free world was mute, while the press was not reporting on it. It seemed as if it had all been swept under the rug.
Your daughter-in-law has been busy sitting in front of a computer day and night sending messages to reporters. She has been trying to bring attention to these unprecedented atrocities and has been advocating for you and millions of others. The “One Voice, One Step” women’s initiative generated simultaneous global protests in all four corners of the world, lasting for 22 hours,
When I would tell people around me who are not Uyghur that China was not allowing me to have any contact or information from my parents and my family, it was so difficult for them to believe. How could such a thing happen in this information era of the 21st Century?
Mother, if you could have only witnessed my wife, with a personality in many ways like yours: the same hatred and love that is as clearly defined as can be. She is never unfair to anyone, she is never afraid of anything, and she will never give up her rights. If only you could have known how she has been constantly confronting the Chinese government using every platform of social media. She constantly grants interviews with journalists and is consistently asking: “Where is my sister? Where are my in-laws? Where are my relatives? Where are millions of my people?” I can imagine how proud you would be, and the love and respect and praise you would have for her as you would encourage her to work harder and be stronger.
I miss hearing your voice and listening to your words so much, Mom. I miss talking to you. I want to tell you my thoughts and share my contentment with you. I want to tell you that your daughter-in-law was recognized for her hard work advocating for the Uyghurs on a stage prepared for the U.S. President Trump, in the presence of the Vice President Pence, Speaker Pelosi, Secretary of State Pompeo, and other high-ranking politicians, statesmen, foreign diplomats, members of the press, and economists. I wanted to see your satisfied, proud look when you would raise your head slightly and show a kind smile when I spoke of her achievements.
Rushan and I, as a couple, will spend our entire lives advocating for you and the Uyghur people. In every opportunity, in every waking hour, we are working hard. We will continue to be a voice for you, Uyghurs, and all the people of East Turkistan in every place that we can reach—in forums, in Islamic organizations, mosques, and universities. We must reach audiences and platforms from Japan to Australia, from Turkey to Canada, from Europe to the different states in America, and we must continue to raise awareness.
We must advocate, in order that the call to prayer would not be halted in our motherland, that our noble nation would never cease to exist, that the prisons would be closed, the walls of the concentration camps be broken down, and that the chains of oppression would be cut off and the whole of East Turkistan’s liberty be restored. For the sake of our people and their right to live in peace and prosperity, we are fighting to the best of our ability to contribute to regain the independence of East Turkistan!
This was part of our vision of emigrating to the West when we were young, and I am grateful for the current establishments and for the existence of the Uyghur community in every corner of the world, as well as for the formation of organizations that are devoted to the Uyghur cause.
Earlier this year, during our trip to Canada, we met with Mr. Shawn Zhang, who lives in Vancouver. He was the first person to identify and prove by satellite imagery that the camps in East Turkistan existed, and he is internationally known as a camp expert. He showed me the Bostan neighborhood with the tomb of Beg Tugman next to it, and then our house—the house which I had not been to for 34 years since I left. I felt like breaking through the screen in front of me. I felt my soul leave me in defiance of my control and open those gates to run inside to see you, mother! My heart was beating so fast as I searched for you there, but I could not find you.
I asked Shawn, “Where is the closest camp to my parents’ house?” He immediately took us through the reservoir in our neighborhood, pointing to a large-scale camp built in the New Awat Desert, which is located at the North of Khan Erik, West of New Erik, and the northwest section of Laskuy. He told us that the camps were being expanded in the area. Then, he showed us the part of the camp that was added on December 29, 2019. I imagined that most of my siblings were in this camp. I avoided imagining what kind of horrors my sisters were being subjected to, both emotionally and physically, inside this camp. But I did not know what to imagine about the fate of you and dad. I hurriedly asked about the orphanages nearby our house. Shawn showed us and I felt myself trembling until I could not bear anymore to imagine my nieces and nephews being subject to brainwashing there, forsaking their ethnic identity, their mother language, and their religion.
Shawn also showed us my wife’s house in Urumqi, across from the Noghay mosque, in 3D. However, our gentle sister Dr. Gulshan Abbas was not in this house anymore. We do not know where she is, Mother. My wife was clearly heartbroken. From the big screen in front of us we saw that our homeland was filled with countless camps and prisons. We were also shown that the camp in Dawanqing was bigger than the entire town and that the prison in Urumqi was probably one of the largest in the world.
I am so worried, mother. What has this Coronavirus from Wuhan brought you? What added difficulties and hardship have you faced? Has there been enough bread to eat and water to drink? How many of my sisters and brothers-in-law are among those who are being forced to go and work in the factories in China proper as a part of this slavery? Where are my little nieces and nephews who are being treated as orphans? Which of my siblings have lost their lives for forced organ transplants? Has my brother Abdurehim been transferred to one of the prisons in China proper? To be honest, my mother, I do not know which of you is still alive or who is lost forever. But my hope is that you all are fine somehow. I pray to God, for you, for all Uyghurs, and for the universe, that this Ramadan will bring blessings, forgiveness, mercy, and salvation.
I believe that God will answer millions of mothers’ cries while they are praying every morning before the dawn. I believe our people must be saved. After darkness, the light will most definitely come. The truth must prevail. We will win against this evil.
We shall meet again, my beloved mother. Either in this world, or in the next!
April 25, 2020