Taipei, September 7, 2018--Chinese authorities should immediately release Ilham Weli, Xinjiang Daily's deputy editor-in-chief, Memtimin Obul and Juret Haji, directors at the newspaper, and Mirkamil Ablimit, the head of the newspaper's subsidiary Xinjiang Farmer's Daily, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region arrested the state-owned newspaper Xinjiang Daily's deputy editor-in-chief, Ilham Weli, in late July for being a "two-faced" official who secretly opposes government policies in the region, according to U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia.
"Chinese authorities should immediately release without charge Ilham Weli and other directors at the newspaper," CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steve Butler said from Washington, D.C. "No journalist should be detained over absurdly vague and arbitrary accusations such as being 'two faced.'"
Xinjiang Daily's human resources director Liu Jianrong confirmed the arrest and referred Radio Free Asia to the newspaper's Party Discipline Committee for details of Weli's case, according to RFA. The Party Discipline Committee told Radio Free Asia that a working group dispatched by the Party Discipline Committee investigated the newspaper in early July and concluded that Weli was "two-faced."
Those accused of being "two-faced" recently in Xinjiang have simply disappeared, likely to re-education camps, according to reports. The four men were accused of publishing "two-faced" articles in the newspaper's Uighur section, according to the Radio Free Asia report. It is unclear whether Weli and his colleagues have been formally charged.
According to Radio Free Asia's interview with the newspaper's Party Discipline Committee director Shui Baoying, law enforcement interrogated Weli and found Obul, Haji, and Ablimit to be his accomplices. Obul, Haji, and Ablimit were later arrested on August 6 at a public meeting at the Xinjiang Daily's office in Urumqi, according to Radio Free Asia.
CPJ's calls to the Urumqi Public Security Bureau and the Xinjiang Autonomous Regional Party Discipline Commission requesting comment went unanswered. Xinjiang Daily did not immediately respond to CPJ's call on September 7 requesting comment.
At least 41 journalists were imprisoned in China at the end of 2017, making it the second largest jailer of journalists worldwide. Among those journalists, 15 are of the Uighur ethnic group, including Ilham Tohti, founder of the website Uighurbiz, and freelance journalist Gulimire Imin. Both were sentenced to life in prison.