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China is arresting family members of US-based reporters as ‘punishment’

China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, on March 19, 2017. (State Department/Released)
March 05, 2018

Several close relatives of four U.S.-based reporters working for Radio Free Asia have been arrested by China’s security services.

Detaining the reporters is an intimidation repercussion following the reporters’ coverage of the mostly Muslim Xinjiang region in China, Radio Free Asia said last week – seemingly “punishment” for the reporters doing their jobs.

Four ethnic Uighur journalists with Radio Free Asia (RFA) in Washington – Shohret Hoshur, Gulchehra Hoja, Mamatjan Juma and Kurban Niyaz – have had close family members either vanish or be arrested.

Chinese authorities in the western province of Xinjiang have been making a practice of detaining Muslim Uighurs – a recognized ethnic group in China – in “political re-education centers,” according to the non-government organization Human Rights Watch. Several thousand people have been detained in what the Chinese authorities call a “strike hard” campaign against terrorists and separatists.

It is really a target against those who express their religious or cultural identity, Human Rights Watch said.

Congress established RFA in 1994 to allow broadcast from countries that forbid a free press. It is funded by an annual grant from the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors.

“We urge the Chinese government to cease policies that unduly restrict the exercise of freedom of religion or that otherwise deny individuals their ability to enjoy their human right. We call on China to release all prisoners of conscience, and to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement last week.

“We’re very concerned about the well-being and safety of our journalists’ family members, especially those in need of medical treatment. We’re also particularly concerned 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,” said Rohit Mahajan, director of public affairs at Radio Free Asia in Washington.

Three of Hoshur’s brothers were detained in Xinjiang in 2014. Two were released in 2015 following opposition from the government, but the third brother was sentenced to a 5-year jail term in 2015 on charges of endangering state security and is still incarcerated.

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. It is estimated that there are about 3,000 detainees there, Hoshur said.

Chinese authorities have warned Hoshur’s family members living in Xinjiang, and advised them to ask him to stop calling and reporting on events in the region.

Hoja’s 43-year-old brother, Kaisar Keyum, was apprehended by Chinese authorities in October 2017. His location is unknown.

Hoja has also lost all communications with her elderly parents who are in poor health.

Hoja has since been informed by a friend in the U.S. that around 20 of Hoja’s relatives have been arrested by the Chinese police because of her reporting.

Juma says that his brothers, Ahmetjan and Abduqadir Juma, were detained in May 2017. Ahmetan’s whereabouts are unknown and Abduqadir is imprisoned in Urumqi. Abduqadir is unhealthy, suffering from heart and health issues, but he is denied medical care because of his sister’s employment.

Niyaz’s youngest brother, Hasanjan, was detained last May and was sentenced to six years in jail for “holding ethnic hatred.”