Human Rights Violations in China Religious Persecution in China Victims of Communism

“In Search of My Sister” — A Film Everyone Should Watch

Last Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to join a group of people in a small studio in the capital of the United States to watch a documentary titled In Search of My Sister. Rushan Abbas — a Uyghur human rights activist and the main character of the documentary — attended this screening. “Imagine in the 21st century, there is a nation, a people suffering the worst persecution, Genocide, because of their ethnic identity,” Ms. Abbas opened the film screening event with this heart wrenching fact.

Because they renounce to abandon their language, culture, religion, and desire for freedom, the Uyghurs are experiencing unprecedented persecution in their own land. The film is “the unforgettable story of American Uyghur Activist Rushan Abbas, whose sister is one of millions of Uyghurs subjected to a modern-day genocide: forced indoctrination, forced labor, forced sterilization” (The Freedom Center of the National Underground Railroad, 2022).

The Ambivalence of Speaking up and Feeling Guilty

Ms. Abbas told us that nearly all overseas Uyghurs have family members or friends that have been detained, imprisoned, or put into reeducation camps. In 2017, she co-founded the Campaign for Uyghurs, a non-profit organization in the U.S., to advocate for and promote human rights and democratic freedoms for Uyghurs. The Chinese government has labeled the organization a terrorist group, since it successfully mobilized the international community to act to stop the human rights atrocities in East Turkistan (which the CCP calls Xinjiang, meaning New Territory).

In September 2018, Ms. Abbas spoke in a panel hosted by the Hudson Institute about the mass detention of Uyghurs in East Turkistan. Six days after the event, her sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, was taken from her home in Urumchi as retaliation for her speaking out. The film documented how she started her journey to search for her sister, a retired medical doctor in East Turkistan, currently occupied by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

I burst into tears several times listening to Ms. Abbas and several other Uyghurs in the film say that they felt guilty that their loved ones were imprisoned because of their activism speaking up and advocating for the voiceless at home. As a Chinese dissident, I constantly worry about my family in China. I fear that the evil regime will torture and imprison them because I “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17).

Truth vs. Propaganda

After screening the film, a professor from John Hopkin’s University highly praised the documentary and asked Ms. Abbas whether this film has been reaching a larger audience. According to Ms. Abbas, they have tried to participate in some large film festivals. While the film was highly complimented at first, the higher-level committees in charge of the film festivals later kept silent when it mattered the most, i.e., considering the film to be shown to larger audience or compete for awards. This is an example of how “China is stepping up censorship of U.S. films as producers make movies with an eye toward pleasing Beijing yet without isolating the global audience” (VOA, 2022).

The film documents many undeniable facts, evidence that the Chinese government has systematically put Uyghurs in gulags, separated Uyghur children from their parents, deprived them from their fundamental human rights (e.g., speaking their mother tongue and practicing their religion), and destroyed Uyghur historical sites and worship places. However, when Ms. Abbas revealed the existence of those concentration camps in East Turkistan, the Chinese government claimed that she was a CIA agent, and she was lying.

Ironically, the Chinese regime constantly brags about how the government can feed 1.5 billion people and lift people out of poverty, and claims that “this achievement” is the evidence of how human rights are respected and valued in China. According to the CCP propagandists, concentration camps are vocational schools for Uyghurs to learn new career skills; forced labor is a pathway for Uyghurs to get jobs and live better. Woefully, in the international community, some government and business leaders, either chose to believe the CCP propaganda or pretended to be blind.

From Campaigning for Uyghurs to Saving the Free World

After the film screening, Ms. Abbas discussed the urgency and significance of campaigning for Uyghurs. She pointed out that when some government officials and business leaders give in to the CCP for profits or other interests, freedom and democracy are under attack, and we, the people living in the free world, are in danger. “Our campaign is not about Uyghurs only; it is to save the free world,” said Ms. Abbas.

Because of the work of Ms. Abbas and her organization Campaign for Uyghurs, the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2021 — Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). The law ensures that goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China do not enter the United States market. Thanks to this Act, as of April 12, 2024, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stopped goods from the CCP China that were valued at $3.17 billion.

In 2022, the Campaign for Uyghurs, together with the Uyghur Human Rights Project, were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

A Film for Everyone Who Loves Freedom

I was excited to see Ms. Abbas in person at the film screening. At the end of the event, I got an opportunity to chat with her briefly. I said to her, “Congratulations for this great film.” After I said that, I felt somewhat uncomfortable, because most likely her heart was bleeding while watching the film. She looked calm, strong, and fearless, but I felt a sense of urgency in her voice.

“If we lose freedom, we lose everything!” This statement was made by Jimmy Lai, an icon of the Hong Kong people who love freedom and would sacrifice themselves for the freedom of their children and grandchildren. Jimmy Lai is a U.K. citizen. Because he spoke up for protestors against the CCP regime, he has been in prison for more than 1,000 days.

Uyghurs have lost their freedom. They are on their way to losing everything — their language, their culture, and other aspects of their heritage. Ms. Abbas is fighting for the freedom of Uyghurs. More than that, she is defending freedom and democracy in the free world. Ms. Abbas said that she escaped from the Chinese regime and arrived in the United States in 1989 and has been an U.S. citizen for 30 years, and when she exercised her First Amendment right as a citizen in the U.S., her sister was punished and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Chinese government.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” In the 1930s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian known for his opposition to National Socialism, said this out of frustration with German Christians, most of whom remained silent in the face of Nazi brutality for the sake of seeing their country regain its former greatness (Father Casey, 2022).

As Bonhoeffer warned us, we should not remain silent when we witness millions of innocent Uyghurs being persecuted. The free world should not remain silent for the sake of seeking business interests in China. I encourage my readers to watch this film and advocate for Uyghurs.

In Search of My Sister is a film for everybody who loves life and liberty.

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