My Beloved Family Is Broken Apart

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Guest Post by Muhammad Atawulla

I am Uyghur. I have two younger brothers who have been detained in Chinese concentration camps for almost two years, and my mother has been detained for six months. My contact with my family has been entirely cut off since May of this year. I don’t have any other information about my family now.

My name is Muhammad. I’m from Ornush village in Hotan County, East Turkestan (aka Xinjiang, China). There are eight people in my family. They are my aged parents, an older sister, four younger brothers and me.

I came to Turkey in May 2016 with a Turkish visa. After I studied math and Turkish language for six months and passed all the related exams, I successfully enrolled at Sütçü İmam University in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey, Feb 2017. Currently, I am studying politics and international relations for a MA degree.

I lost contact with my family in May 2018. Until then I was calling them at least once in a month. In last two years, my family were given a lot of trouble from the local Chinese government and the police. They registered my family as a “closely watched family” just because I am in Turkey and questioned them many times. Police threatened them and asked me to go back to China. But I rejected their request. They forced my family members to ask me to contact the local police. I contacted them. They wanted my student ID and other official documents from my university. I sent them everything that they asked for, but still I ended up with same consequences as my fellow Uyghurs who traveled to Turkey for other reasons.

The Chinese government first detained my youngest brother, 22 year old Ruzimemet Atawulla, in the concentration camp in March 2017. Because he is the youngest one in our family, it made my mother ill. Then they detained my other younger brother, 28 year old Memeteli Atawullah, in Aug 2017. He is a married man with two children; his health is poor and it deteriorated in the concentration camp. The police took him to the hospital because of his poor health and called my parents to pay for the medical treatment. But they didn’t allow my parents to meet with my brother. My mother cried miserably and asked them to allow her to see my brother. The police tried to persuade my mother and told her that “she should be happy because her son is in the concentration camp while many other young men were sentenced to jail.” They then allowed my aged mother to see him for only ten minutes. During their meeting, my brother Memeteli cried and begged my mother to save him. However, nothing changed. The police haven’t released my youngest brother either.

Once, in our phone conversation, my mother told me that the police treated my brother, Memeteli, as a criminal and monitored him all the time. After that hospital treatment, they took my brother away in a police car with armed guards.

In order to free my innocent brothers, my old mother went to every relevant official, from the village to county level, but she got the same answers like “don’t worry, he’ll be back soon,” or “I’m sorry, I can’t put my nose into this type of thing, only the senior level officials can help with it.” Whenever I called my mother, she cried with grievance and told me that “I went to everywhere and pleaded with everyone, but I can’t do anything to release your brothers.”

These struggles and mental tortures broke down my mother and she was given emergency medical treatment a few times. Doctors notified my family that her life was in danger and to be very cautious of her situation. So I tried to speak to her over the phone for a little longer and tried to alleviate her pain with my fake smiles and happiness when I called her; I tried to convince her that the concentration camp was just like a school and my brothers are students, just as I am here. However, my ‘kindest trick’ didn’t work as she had seen what was going on with my brother with her own eyes. However, she tried her best to hide her sorrows from me and conveyed her love and worries about me. At such moments, I felt so powerless and useless for my mother and my entire caring family. I came to Turkey to seek knowledge and for this reason, for studying aboard, I have done a lot of hard work and came with an official permit. Why do the Chinese authorities not respect their own law?! It has started beating me up. It made me feel outraged for the unjust situation of my family.

Yet what has happened to my brothers over 2 years was not the end of the misery of my family. In August 2017 I learned that my brother in-law was sentenced to six years after being detained by police for a week. His crime was listening to a religious speech at mosque a few years ago; more than sixty attendants were all sentenced to more than six years, for the same nonsense reason. As a result, my sister became a widow and her children became orphans. In one of our phone conversations, my mother told me that one of my young nephews was sentenced to five years imprisonment too, for no reason.

“Criminals” are in jail and suffering both physically and mentally; my family members are grieving in helplessness; I myself am a forced migrant in sadness. The days are passing very slowly and painfully. Time has lost meaning to me because I’m sleepless at night and have no spirit during the daytime. My heart aches whenever I called my family as all I heard was such a painful news, one after another, about my close relatives and my friends. I was extremely worried about the safety of my mom in my calls and tried my best to avoid asking her any sensitive questions; every phone call was accompanied with fear and hope…

Because my aged father has a hearing problem usually I spoke to my mom only over the phone. My sister and my brothers do not stay at home very often, so most of the time the person who answered my calls was my mother. In addition, I also worried to speak with the others as I thought chatting with my aged mother would be safer than causing ‘trouble’ to others. Sometimes I felt so scared to dial the number to call my home. Whenever the phone was connected, my heart began to beat very fast. I was getting nervous about one day the one who picked up my phone was not my mom. I always ask about her first, and as long as I learned that she is safe, I will then ask about my brothers. All our conversations carried on with almost same tone, repeated questions and replies. Their reply to my inquires about brothers stayed the same, “they have not been released yet”. I could feel that this tragic situation was very unbearable to my mom. Sometimes I avoided calling them because it is difficult for me to hear my mother sob. Most of all, I was avoiding hearing the worst news about my mother.

But the heart-breaking news finally came on a day in March 2018. My beloved mother was arrested by the Chinese police. I learned this news from my sister in a phone conversation. She told me with all her grieving tears and speechless tones. Her trembling voice, that heart-broken voice of helplessness, is still alive in my ear. The Chinese police arrested my mother with more than twenty older women together from my village. Their only crime was that they read the Holy Qur’an at one of our neighbor’s funeral 4 years ago. The cowardly, brutal Chinese communists, the enemy of humanity, jailed my mother and another twenty Uyghur women in their 70’s, with such a groundless reason as reading a book, a holy book, that millions of other believers read everyday all aroud the world!

After this terrible news, I have only contacted my other familiy members a few times. When I asked about my mother, they were in complete silence as I knew that they feared to say anything related to the police or the local regulations. They began to ignore and later rejected my call. To avoid of making trouble to them, I didn’t call my family over a month. On my last call, I came to know that our home landline was already out of service.

My contact with my dad ended when I got my flight to Turkey as he gave me a tight hug and said goodbye. Because of his hearing issue I was not able to talk to him on the phone, but whenever I called my mom, I knew that he stood next to my mom and tried to listen to our conversations. My mom used to convey his care and concerns about me all the time. He was old and not in good health. So I don’t know how is he living without my mom now.

All the work in my family and the labour on our farm has been loaded onto my other two younger brothers, my sister and my sisters-in-law since my brothers’ imprisonment and my mother’s arrest. On top of that, they are required to attend the so called ‘’open re-education training’’ every evening; as village members, they must attend the flag-raising ceremony, must go to the forced labour that is ordered by the communist regime otherwise they get punishment or fines.

Since May 2018, I haven’t heard a word about my family because of the disconnection of our landline. So I do not know what else happened to my sister and two other younger brothers now. I’ve barely had a peaceful sleep since I learnt of the arrest of my aged mother. Are they still alive? Are they also in the camps? What about my little cousins or nieces? Are they sent to the government funded orphanages???

I am becoming a depressed person. I can’t concentrate on my studies and can’t follow my study plan as well. Life has become a nightmare to me. Even now, I am still trying to push myself to carry on my studies as that was the first and ultimate aim that brought me to Turkey. I wish one day we, the powerless Uyghurs, can earn the basic freedom of human beings and live in peace. Any more wishes may seemed like a luxury at the moment. Please God, help me to save my mother; please make our sorrows and voice be heard to the people of peace and love around the world.

I believe that every Uyghur living in the diaspora has similar or more tragic stories like mine…

15th October, 2018. Ankara, Turkey.

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How the “empowered voices” of American Muslim women give me hope and strength: Reflections of a Uyghur human rights activist

By Zubayra Shamseden
October 15, 2018

zubayreI was honored to attend the October 11 MPAC ceremony spotlighting the three amazing, talented women who received the 2018 Empowering Voices Award in Washington, DC.

The inspiration I received that evening was something I deeply needed as a Uyghur woman.

Even for Uyghurs who live outside China, the dire situation in East Turkestan is our living nightmare. Every week brings new sorrow, as we learn of more deaths in custody in the “re-education” camps that hold more than a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of other Turkic Muslims. Mothers and fathers are being taken away in the middle of the night. The orphanages are so overcrowded with Ugyhur children whose parents are in the detention camps that the government is constantly building more – surrounding them by barbed wire. Now the government has announced an “anti-halal” campaign, punishing Uyghur Muslims who decline to eat pork.

Campaigning to stop this repression is utterly exhausting. With only a few vocal Uyghur organizations, we cannot keep up with the volume of urgent commitments. Uyghurs everywhere in the world carry a heavy moral and psychological burden. We cannot escape, even for a day, the pain of Chinese government’s ruthless program to wipe out our identity and faith. It is hitting hard every Uyghur soul, and we have to pray for a miracle to rescue our helpless loved ones back home, who are trapped a totalitarian machine of cruelty.

During the opening remarks that evening in Washington, the Qur’an recitation by young Muslim woman on stage suddenly brought me a mixed feeling. I felt a flood of warmth, but at the same time, an emotional reminder of the millions of imprisoned Uyghurs, especially women, imprisoned simply for wearing a headscarf, let alone reading Qur’an in a public event.

My vision and my mind flew to a different place. Countless questions and hopeful dreams began to appear in front of my eyes. I knew deep in my heart that every single guest at this glittering event would be our strong friend and supporter, if only they knew about the millions of suffering Uyghurs in East Turkestan.

I let my mind linger over the qualities of the people around me. They truly love pluralism and peace. They stand against racism and they care for their neighbors. They believe everyone should be able to dress however they like to dress, to speak in the language that they are the most comfortable with. They practice tolerance for others, and wish to live in a society that practices tolerance for all.

Like Uyghurs, they strive to follow the rules of the holy book, which teaches them that hate is not a solution. Like Uyghurs, they know that God teaches us to be just, even if it brings personal hardship.

Suddenly the cheerful sound of clapping woke me up. I was back to reality, a reality where I was among people whose faith is so familiar to me, yet they didn’t know me. We share the same faith, but they didn’t see me until I greeted them, smiled, and started the conversation myself. After the ice was broken, we talked, we felt close, and we began to laugh and cry together.

These interactions reminded me of an issue that we Uyghurs have been very distressed about. The Muslim world, Muslim social organizations, Muslim religious leaders, and Muslim media are mute about Uyghur issues. We always ask, are they really unconcerned? Do they really not care about Uyghur Muslims?

But I learned something important by taking part in the MPAC evening. Just by attending one event, I found new friends and supporters who have heard our cry. I have to admit, like others in the Uyghur diaspora, I have not been confident about identifying myself as Muslim. I have not spent much time finding connections with Muslims in our democratic society.

I realized that I have channeled my identity as a Muslim into fighting back, as a victim of China’s drive to wipe out my religion and my people, a despised minority in China. It is time for me to also draw strength from my identity, and from being a member of a loving and upright community of believers .

Before the evening was over, I was thrilled to hear one of the speakers talk about the Uyghurs alongside the Rohingya and other suffering people who need the attention of American Muslims. What a difference it makes to spend time with people who are proud supporters of Islamic and American values, of mercy, justice, peace, human dignity, freedom, and equality for all.



MPAC-ZS@MPAC ceremony, October 11, 2018


Zubayra Shamseden comes from an old and deeply religious Uyghur family. She is Chinese Outreach Coordinator for the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), a documentation and advocacy group based in Washington, DC, and a Fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement’s (IGE) Center for Women, Faith & Leadership (CWFL). She has been campaigning for the human rights and political freedom of the Uyghur people since the late 1980s. Ms. Shamseden has worked for nonprofit, academic and government organizations in Australia and in the US for over two decades.

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Zubayra Shamseden Speaks at the Keep Taiwan Free Rally on September 22nd

Zubayra Shamseden, UHRP’s Chinese Outreach Coordinator, spoke at the “Keep Taiwan Free” rally on September 22nd.  Below is a transcript of her speech and photographs of the event.

I am honored to be here today to join you and support you to ‘Keep Taiwan Free’ from the Chinese Communist government’s totalitarian regime.20180922_125838-120180922_125907

What does it mean to ‘Keep Taiwan Free’?

For the Chinese people inside China, under the dictatorial regime of Xi Jinping, it means:

  • Having a democratic regime that millions of Chinese people have for so long dreamed
  • Having a free society where every one can express themselves freely without fear of persecution, detention, torture and disappearance
  • Living a life without corrupt state officials, government supported wealthy elites, and preferred groups of ‘patriotic’ people, and without concern for their homes being demolished, being hungry on the streets or disappeared in black jails.
  • Believing in a faith that they wish to believe in, not kowtowing to Xi Jinping and the CCP

For the people, who live in occupied territories of China, like Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols, ‘Keep Taiwan Free’ means:

  • Never trust the Chinese communist government’s empty promises and never give up on your true democracy and freedom. Keep your region free.
  • Value your identity, your worth, your belief, your dignity and keep resisting Chinese assimilation. Don’t give up your Taiwanese identity.
  • Live in a free society, not a society which is controlled by tanks, artillery, high tech surveillance and mass detention. Stay a free Taiwan that has democratic value.
  • Live without fear of persecution because of your different skin color, belief in a religion, use of a different language, identity with a different culture and life style; Keep Taiwan as free as it is now.
  • Live without fear of devastation of separation from your family, forced marriages, destruction of your private life by settling unwanted government state officials into your house, forcing you to eat, sleep, and live together with the people who oppress you. Stop Chinese Communist influence in every aspects of your free life. Protect what you have Taiwan.


Taiwan has been an example to millions of Chinese people that also deserve an open, free society. Each and every Chinese person, who desires freedom should support and protect the democracy in Taiwan.

Currently the Chinese communist government under Xi, instead of using Taiwan as a role model to implement democratic rule in China, intends to make it a part of China like East Turkestan, Tibet and Inner Mongolia.


Our Uyghur, Tibetan, Mongol and other Chinese democracy movement activism experiences and the current atrocity that is taking place in East Turkestan proves that under the Chinese communist regime, it is impossible to have freedom, democracy, peace, justice, equality and a humanly life. As a people whose fate is connected to the same evil enemy in the world, let’s fight together, work together to:

Keep Taiwan Free, Keep Hong Kong free,

Make East Turkestan, Tibet and Inner Mongolia free from the Chinese dictatorship.




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