Written Testimony of Rushan Abbas for U.S. House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party’s Hearing on Transnational Repression

Written Testimony of Rushan Abbas 

Founder and Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs 

U.S. House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party

“CCP Transnational Repression: The Party’s Effort to Silence and Coerce Critics Overseas”

Wednesday, December 13, 2023, 19:00

 

Chairman Gallagher, Ranking Member Krishnamoorthi, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide you with my testimony.

The purpose of my testimony is to highlight methods employed by the Chinese Communist Party in transnational repression against me, and the Uyghur diaspora in the United States. My hope is that the experiences I share, particularly the personal tragedy of my family members’ arbitrary detention, emphasize the pressing need for international attention and decisive actions.

I am an Uyghur-American, a mother, and an activist for the rights of Uyghurs. I was born in Urumchi, the capital of what is officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and came to the United States in 1989 to attend university. Xinjiang is a colonialist name. In English, it translates to “New Territory.” I refer to the region as East Turkistan, the historical name of my ancestral homeland and the region where Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic groups have resided for centuries. I am a United States citizen and live in Falls Church, Virginia. 

As you are undoubtedly aware, the Chinese regime has developed the most sophisticated and technologically advanced model for cultural erasure, extensive surveillance and totalitarian control in East Turkistan. Their desire for control over the Uyghur people, and their own population, extends beyond the confines of the region. Uyghurs in the diaspora are constantly monitored through any means possible. Since Uyghurs continue to expose the truth and fight for the rights of our people within democratic countries, we are seen as a threat to the reputation and priorities of the Chinese Government. They use methods of transnational repression to silence the diaspora so that they can continue their genocidal policies and evade accountability.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses surveillance, intimidation, coercion, libel, harassment, verbal attacks and kin punishment as forms of transnational repression against Uyghur Americans. Those who speak out against the Chinese government’s policies, face repercussions through their family members in East Turkistan being targeted for punishment.  Uyghurs in the diaspora are torn between our moral obligation to fight for the survival of our people, who are being systematically erased in the region, and our familial obligation of minimizing potential risk to vulnerable relatives. 

Numerous instances highlight the CCP’s significant control and influence within the United States. They have the capability to penalize Uyghur Americans for expressing their free speech, compelling others to disseminate propaganda that supports the Chinese Government’s denial of genocide. This manipulation and distortion of facts have not only impacted Uyghurs but have also influenced corporations, celebrities, and governments to prioritize CCP’s interests, often at the expense of their moral, economic, and security considerations. I urge the United States Government to take a leadership role in addressing these emerging issues and methods of repression in the age of technology. Additionally, I implore this Committee to continue standing by the Uyghur people in their pursuit of justice.

Kin Punishment 

We have to come to terms with the fact that China has fundamentally different values and a dissimilar legal system than we do. Kin punishment, or “guilt by association,” is a form of punishment that has a long and dark history as an accepted practice in Chinese history. It is an inhumane violation of international law, that the Communist regime brazenly and consistently engages in. 

My family’s personal experience is an illustration of the very real repercussions that Uyghurs in the diaspora face when speaking out about China’s genocidal policies. I had been watching the situation deteriorate in East Turkistan from the United States. In 2018, we received news that 24 of my husband’s family members had gone missing and were likely detained. I spoke up about the unjustful arrests, and highlighted the Uyghur genocide and crimes against humanity being committed by the Chinese government, on September 5, 2018 at the Husdon Institute. Only six days after that speech, the authorities arbitrarily detained my sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, who, to this day, remains a victim of their unjust actions. The swiftness and brutality with which the Chinese regime responded by applying guilt by association should demonstrate that Uyghurs speaking up about the crimes against humanity in East Turkistan are always under the watchful eye of the CCP and that they relish in this ancient and cruel practice of kin punishment with impunity.

It was only in December 2020 that we received indirect information through a third party, confirming her unfair sentencing on fabricated charges of ‘terrorism’ and ‘social disruption’. The spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs later verified these distressing revelations during a press conference.

My sister is an apolitical person and the circumstances surrounding her abduction are direct retribution imposed upon my own activism, highlighting the CCP’s utilization of transnational kin punishment and repression. This painful situation unveils the extent to which Chinese authorities resort to arbitrary detention, persecution, and a flagrant disregard for justice to squash dissent and promote their own political agenda. 

I never anticipated becoming a full time activist. The CCP has no borders for whom they can intimidate, harass, manipulate, and extort. Our families, childhood friends, neighbors, and professors have disappeared into concentration camps and prisons, and we are expected to be quiet in the free world. In 2019, on the one year anniversary of my sister’s detention, I quit my job to become a full-time activist to enhance the voice of Uyghurs and to mobilize the international community against the CCP’s crimes. The only way to handle a bully is to stand up against them and hold them to account. My response to Beijing’s hostility towards my family is continuously working to expose the CCP’s genocidal crimes. I am refueled every day by remembering my sister’s innocent eyes. Nothing will slow me down with the overwhelming love I have for my sister, for my people, my homeland and for the freedom and democracy that I enjoy in this country! 

I would like to emphasize that both my sister and my husband’s family are not citizens of the United States. This is often cited as a reason to argue that genuine pressure cannot be exerted on the CCP to advocate for the release of individuals of conscience in the context of family reunification. I urge the Committee to recognize the broader impact on Uyghur Americans when their family members face consequences for expressing their freedom of speech. The CCP’s strategies directly attack the familial bonds within the Uyghur community, causing profound emotional and psychological distress. Familial bonds transcend international borders for many of us residing in the United States. It is a new phenomenon that these family connections are exploited as a means to control and manipulate individuals. This phenomenon needs to be addressed in full and recognized for what it is: subjectment of American citizens who are living within the American legal system to collective punishment. The United States government has a responsibility to protect its citizens facing this form of repression by another government.

Coercing Uyghurs in the Diaspora 

The report “We know you better than yourself”: China’s transnational repression of the Uyghur diaspora” (2023) by the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom highlights China’s heightened emphasis on deploying Uyghur informants, employing intimidation tactics to silence open discourse among Uyghurs, and enlisting them to contribute to the creation of favorable depictions of China. Uyghurs abroad are pressured to become informants, stay silent on human rights abuses, or engage in pro-CCP propaganda, reflecting a shift in the CCP’s strategy since 2017 to intensify the use of Uyghur informants and employ intimidation to suppress open discourse among Uyghurs. 

My social posts addressing the Uyghur genocide remain a focal point for trolls attempting to whitewash China’s atrocities and tarnish my reputation. I have been a target of attacks and harassment by the CCP proxies using tactics such as hate speech, libel, and blackmail to discredit my advocacy. These instances have been reported to the FBI with no true action taken. Recently, there have been coordinated attacks on my family. The CCP is systematically rewriting East Turkistan’s history. My family’s history. My history. 

The disinformation narratives that they promote are crafted with detailed precision. These coordinated attacks often seem plausible, incorporating elements of truth to create a narrative that aligns with existing biases or known facts. The CCP’s mouthpiece, China Global Times Network, propagates false information about me, alleging I had stolen someone else’s photo and fabricated the story of my sister being a missing relative. Often, my experience as a translator for Uyghurs in Guantanamo Bay is cited as evidence for being a CIA agent who is spreading propaganda and disinformation to create conflict in the region. The persuasiveness of their lies, particularly in the context of political disinformation, is rooted in their careful construction of a narrative to enhance the CCP’s credibility. 

The coercion of individuals residing in the United States by the Chinese Government to disseminate false information about the Uyghur situation and Uyghur activists violates the principles of free speech. It undermines the authenticity of public discourse in the United States and the right to express genuine opinions. This spread of disinformation poses a threat to truth and information integrity, which jeopardizes informed decision-making and the United States democratic process. 

Intimidation Tactics to Silence Dissent

Uyghurs in exile are monitored closely, both physically and digitally. This surveillance ranges from monitoring online activities and social media presence to physical surveillance through deploying pro-CCP individuals who are on U.S. soil. This can include Chinese international students, government officials, or pro-CCP residents. Their surveillance includes tracking the movements and employment of Uyghurs, as well as attending public events where the Uyghur diaspora is gathering. It must be noted, that it is entirely possible that these Chinese students and personnel may also be subject to coercion and transnational repression due to having family back in China. 

Three times in the last year, a supposed Chinese lawyer in the United States, likely acting on behalf of the CCP, has been sending false charges to my workplace, attempting to intimidate me by accusing me of spreading lies about the CCP and coercing the U.S. Government to do the same. These charges are falsely presented as if they are filed to the U.S. Supreme Court, an unusual move to intimidate activists such as me by weaponizing the U.S. legal system. 

A university in New York canceled our panel with Tibetan, Hong Konger and Chinese activists, after Chinese students at the campus protested. This displays a completely unacceptable submission to the self-censorship that is reinforced by the CCP. I’ve faced relentless attacks from Chinese students at universities across the US, Europe and have been followed, threatened, verbally attacked and harassed. Even non-Han Chinese people on the campuses and streets of Berkeley, San Francisco, Denver, Boston, Paris, Vienna, Tokyo, and Jakarta have confronted me with hostility. Students, almost always organized by the Chinese mission in the countries that I visit, will hurl a barrage of questions in an attempt to undermine my work and discredit me personally. They all echo the same lies, disinformation and propaganda used by the CCP to justify their genocide against the Uyghur people. 

The Uyghurs that are most active such as myself and leadership of other Uyghur organizations, are surveilled online. Despite our efforts, Facebook, Youtube and X (Twitter) have done nothing to protect Uyghurs and hate speech continues to fester online.  

Campaign for Uyghurs constantly experiences hacking attempts targeting our website and email systems. These attempts usually take the form of attackers masquerading as journalists, interested individuals, or official-looking emails from our service provider asking us to click a link or attachment. Recently, we experienced a cyber attack on our website. The attack resulted in visitors of the CFU website being redirected to a Chinese government website. 

Legislative and Policy Recommendations

I would like to thank the Select Committee and commend the United States Government for its support of my advocacy and the Uyghur people. As a leading global power committed to human rights and democratic values, I ask that the U.S. continue to stand firmly behind Uyghur activists and their fight for justice. As our message expands in reach, and our advocacy grows, so does the amount of disinformation being spread to counter our cause. It is imperative that the United States government remain committed to protecting the truth and giving platforms to Uyghurs to do the same. In the same vein, Uyghur Americans are facing incredible challenges and painful punishments for our activism. I would implore the U.S. government to strengthen its support for Uyghur Americans, by focusing on holding the Chinese Government accountable for transnational repression, and focus more efforts on family reunification. 

We recommend the United States introduce and pass legislation that explicitly seeks to deter China’s transnational repression tactics, focusing on the protection of Uyghur activists, advocates, and their families. The legislation can provide legal remedies for cases of harassment, intimidation, or threats faced by Uyghur community members, enabling them to seek justice and hold perpetrators accountable. It can establish mechanisms for individuals to report incidents and receive support. Last, we would like the U.S. Government to consider developing policies aimed at family reunification, especially for Uyghur Americans. This would involve diplomatic efforts and possibly new legislation to facilitate the release of prisoners of conscience from China and their subsequent reunification with family in the U.S.

Recommendations

The introduction of the ‘Transnational Repression Policy Act’ (TRPA) on March 16th, 2023, by Senator Jeff Merkley, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ben Cardin, and Senator Bill Hagerty — Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee— is a good start. The TRPA, if enacted, would greatly assist Uyghurs facing transnational repression by China. 

The efforts of the House Select Committee on China to investigate TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, for their potential role in data collection on dissidents, as well as monitoring and censoring content related to Uyghurs and the Uyghur genocide, must continue. ByteDance’s collaboration with Chinese authorities, including entities under severe sanctions such as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), further underscores the urgent need for scrutiny and action. 

The U.S. should work closely with its allies and partners to strengthen intelligence sharing related to transnational repression activities carried out by China. Enhanced collaboration allows for the identification of networks and individuals involved in such activities and helps build a comprehensive understanding of China’s methods. The intelligence gathered can be used to expose tactics, support legal action, and strengthen advocacy efforts.

The U.S. Government should consider implementing further targeted sanctions on Chinese officials and entities involved in transnational repression and human rights abuses against the Uyghur community. By targeting those responsible for human rights violations, the U.S. sends a strong message that such actions will have consequences and discourages other countries from engaging in similar oppression.

In an era of extensive surveillance, protection of digital rights is crucial. The U.S. should introduce policies and initiatives to strengthen online privacy, encryption standards, and cybersecurity practices. These efforts can involve providing resources, training, and guidance on secure digital practices, while also advocating for international agreements and norms that condemn state-sponsored hacking and cyber espionage activities. 

We also ask that there is a strengthening of legal and security measures to ensure the safety of American Uyghurs facing threats or harassment online and on social media at the hands of the Chinese Government. The U.S. government can provide resources or funding so that Uyghur dissidents, as well as other dissidents of the Chinese government are provided with the resources to track hate speech narratives, and threats online to ensure their safety. 

Last, we ask for support for educational campaigns to raise awareness about the plight of the Uyghur people both within the U.S. and internationally. The U.S. should provide platforms and opportunities for Uyghur activists to share their stories and experiences. This includes facilitating their participation in international forums, conferences, and media outlets. Support academic and cultural initiatives that accurately represent Uyghur history and culture. This can include funding research, publications, and cultural events that celebrate and preserve Uyghur heritage. 

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We defend the human rights of uyghur people and the free world by exposing and confronting the chinese government's genocide, and empowering uyghur women and youth in the diaspora.

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Video testimony https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUmugezHEU4https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RXn8PZqjsM&t=627shttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHOmBV4js_Ehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHOmBV4js_Ehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHOmBV4js_Ehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHOmBV4js_E WRITTEN testimony