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U.S. demands release of Uighur doctor while China urges halt to smears

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

FILE PHOTO: A Chinese police officer takes his position by the road near what is officially called a vocational education centre in Yining in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

The daughter of Gulshan Abbas told a briefing organized with the bipartisan U.S. 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.

In Beijing on Thursday, a foreign ministry spokesman said Abbas was sentenced for the crimes of joining a terrorist organization, helping terrorist activities, and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social order”.

“We urge certain politicians in the United States to respect facts and stop fabricating lies and smearing China,” the spokesman, Wang Wenbin, told a news conference.

The daughter, Ziba Murat, called the charges “preposterous.” Gulshan’s sister, 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,” Rushan said.

In a tweet, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, 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.

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 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.

U.N. 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.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Daphne Psaledakis; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Leslie Adler and Clarence Fernandez

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