At least four Uighur reporters working for Radio Free Asia (RFA), a U.S.-funded outlet, revealed this week that dozens of relatives living in western Xinjiang, China, have faced government persecution because of their reporting.
The journalists in question cover Xinjiang and the turbulent relationship between that region’s Uighur Muslim minority and the repressive Communist Party in Beijing. Under Xi Jinping, the regime has banned parents from using certain Muslim names; confiscated Qurans; forced shops to sell haram items like alcohol and cigarettes; and made it illegal for Muslims to use their cars without government GPS tracking in Xinjiang. Members of the Uighur diaspora have previously lamented that the Chinese Communist Party has a “100 percent infiltration” of spies within their communities to ensure no Uighurs abroad advocate against the regime successfully.
The Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim people; the Turkish government recognizes them as part of the international Turkic community. Thus, China’s crackdown on the practice of Islam in their community has, on occasion, elicited the ire of Turkish Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Many Uighurs refer to Xinjiang by the name East Turkestan.
Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have reportedly capitalized on the religious crackdown to recruit potential jihadists in the region.
Many of the first English-language reports on these measures appeared in Radio Free Asia.
Gulchehra Hoja, one of the outlet’s veteran journalists, published a Facebook post this week accusing the Xi regime of detaining twenty relatives, including her parents, brother, and “at least eight cousins” in an attempt to pressure her to abandon her work, according to Amnesty International. The Washington Post names Shohret Hoshur, Mamatjan Juma, and Kurban Niyaz as three other RFA journalists whose families have suffered similar consequences, noting that three of the four (excepting Niyaz) are American citizens. The Post explains:
All three of Hoshur’s brothers were jailed in Xinjiang in 2014, but two were released in December 2015 after the U.S. government protested. The third, Tudaxun, was sentenced to a five-year jail term in 2015 on charges of endangering state security and remains in prison.
Hoshur said the other two brothers were detained again in September and taken to the Loving Kindness School, a political re-education center in the city of Horgos. Hoshur said a source told him that around 3,000 people have been detained there.
“My father is paralyzed on one side and needs a constant care. My mother has recently had a surgery on her feet and is very weak,” [Hoja] said in the statement. “I need to know where they are and that they are OK. I need to be able to speak to them. They have not committed any crime.”
RFA public affairs director Rohit Mahajan told the post the outlet is “very concerned about the well-being and safety of our journalists’ family members, especially those in need of medical treatment … [and] about the use of detentions as a tactic by Chinese authorities to silence and intimidate independent media, as well as to inhibit RFA’s mission of bringing free press to closed societies.”
Radio Free Asia has not stopped publishing stories of Chinese harassment of Uighurs. On Tuesday, the publication reported on an incident in an unnamed American university highlighting the growing imposition of Chinese government restrictions on U.S. colleges. A Uighur student told the publication that, upon identifying himself as being from “East Turkestan,” a group of Han Chinese students in the class threatened to alert the Chinese embassy and have him arrested for being a “separatist.” The Uighur student lives in Virginia.
The incident reportedly came to its conclusion when the instructor in the class noted that the Uighur student had the right to involve the FBI in the case, suggesting that the Han students may be foreign agents illegally acting on behalf of Beijing.
Back in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch revealed this week that Beijing authorities launched a “predictive policing program” that compiles all known data about a person and highlights those most likely to present a problem for the Chinese government. These individuals are then arrested, despite them having taken no illegal action.
Witnesses tell Human Rights Watch that the arrested are locked in “political education centers” to be brainwashed with communist propaganda. The program reportedly targets “anyone suspected of political disloyalty, which in Xinjiang could mean any Uyghur, particularly those who express, even peacefully, their religious or cultural identity.”
Citing HRW, the Post claims the regime has detained tens of thousands of Uighurs in these education centers.