A poster in Khom, a village in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, shows President Xi Jinping chatting with Xinjiang minority people. Authorities have detained several relatives of RFA Uighur service journalists in recent months. (Reuters/Jason Lee)

China detains relatives of RFA Uighur service journalists

February 28, 2018 2:46 PM ET

Taipei, February 28, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists today said it is alarmed by news that Chinese authorities have detained at least nine relatives of four U.S.-based journalists for Radio Free Asia's Uighur service.

Security forces in Xinjiang have taken into custody relatives of Shohret Hoshur, Gulchehra Hoja, Mamatjan Juma, and Kurban Niyaz, according to The Washington Post and RFA spokesperson Rohit Mahajan. Two of the relatives believed to be detained are the elderly parents of Hoja, who is based in Washington, D.C. and has worked with RFA for 17 years.

Authorities have detained tens of thousands of Uighurs in the Xinjiang region in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch. The RFA reporters are among the few journalists who have provided independent reporting on the crackdown, according to The Washington Post.

"Punishing family members of journalists beyond the reach of the Chinese government is a cruel, if not barbaric, tactic," said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler. "The Chinese government should immediately account for these people's health, whereabouts, and legal status and set them free."

On February 22, Talk to East Turkestan, a Facebook page advocating for rights of Uighurs, posted a message from Hoja in which the journalist demanded that authorities release her parents and brother. Hoja said in the post that she lost contact with her parents at the beginning of February and that she suspects that security forces took them. Hoja said she is concerned about her father's health because he is partially paralyzed and was in a hospital when she last spoke with him. RFA told CPJ that Hoja's brother, Kaisar Keyum, was detained in September 2017 because of his sister's employment with the station. According to The Washington Post, a relative of Hoja's told her that about 20 of their family members were detained because of Hoja's reporting.

RFA told CPJ that authorities also detained two of Hoshur's brothers, Shawket and Rexim, in September 2017 and are holding them in a re-education camp. The brothers were previously jailed from August 2014 to December 2015, in retaliation for Hoshur's coverage of Xinjiang, according to CPJ's research. A third brother, Tudaxun, has been imprisoned since 2015 for alleged violations of state security laws, according to The Washington Post.

RFA Uighur Deputy Director Juma's two brother Ahmetjan and Abduqadir were arrested in May 2017, according to news reports. RFA told CPJ that the journalist's family does not know where Ahmetjan is, and that the other brother, Abduqadir, is held at Urumqi No.1 Prison in Miquan County, Urumqi. The family was not allowed to visit Abduqadir in prison, according to RFA.

In May 2017, Hasanjan, the brother of RFA Uighur broadcaster Niyaz, was detained and charged with "ethnic hatred" in May 2017 in Bugur County, according to The Washington Post and RFA.

Chinese authorities have a record of targeting journalists and their family. In late 2017, CPJ documented how Chinese American journalist Chen Xiaoping's wife, Li Huaiping, disappeared in Guangzhou city. It is believed that she was taken by police and forced to make a video criticizing her husband's activities. She went missing after Chen broadcast a series of interviews with fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui. Liu Xia, wife of the late Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, has been under house arrest since 2010, according to news reports.

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