This photo taken on May 31, 2019, shows a watchtower on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. Photo: AFP / Greg Baker

A Uighur Muslim doctor has been jailed on terrorism charges, Beijing confirmed Thursday, a day after her family told US politicians she had been sentenced to 20 years. 

Gulshan Abbas vanished into detention two years ago, but her relatives told a US congressional committee Wednesday that the 58-year-old had been sentenced to 20 years in prison because of activism on behalf of Uighurs.

Rights groups say an estimated one million Uighurs and other Turkic minorities languish in detention camps in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region in prison-like conditions.

China insists they are “vocational training centres,” but activists say inmates face torture and forced labour. 

“Gulshan Abbas has been sentenced according to the law by Chinese judicial organs for taking part in organized terrorism, aiding terrorist activities and seriously disrupting social order,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.

He did not give further details of her alleged crimes.

“We urge US politicians to respect facts, stop fabricating lies to smear China, and stop using the Xinjiang issue to interfere in China’s domestic affairs,” he added.

Various Western countries and organizations including the US, EU and UN have criticized China’s policies in Xinjiang, most recently highlighting alleged forced labor practices involving Uighur Muslims.

That has spotlighted alleged abuses inside the textile supply chain in particular, where cotton harvested in Xinjiang by forced or cheap labor is believed to make cheap garments for Western high streets.

A retired doctor who is fluent in Mandarin, Abbas was detained in September 2018, according to testimony from her sister, Rushan Abbas, provided to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year.  

Rushan Abbas, who is based in the US, has been outspoken in campaigning for her sister’s release.

“Today my family shared the devastating news we received on Christmas Day: that my sister, Dr Gulshan Abbas, was sentenced to 20 yrs in prison by the Chinese regime,” tweeted Rushan Abbas on Wednesday.

“Horrific as her unjust suffering is, I am thankful for the support of so many human rights allies.”