Radio Free Asia editor Eset Sulaiman's brothers Ehet Sulaiman (left) and Ehmet Sulaiman (right) are among the journalist's relatives who have gone missing since 2017. (Photo: RFA)

China detains family members of Radio Free Asia Uyghur editor Eset Sulaiman

Taipei, March 8, 2021 – Chinese authorities should immediately release the relatives of journalist Eset Sulaiman, and stop intimidating members of the press abroad by targeting their family in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In a March 3 report, the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia, where Eset works as a U.S.-based editor at the outlet’s Uyghur-language service, reported that authorities in the Xinjiang autonomous region had arrested two of the journalist’s brothers and at least five of his cousins in 2017 and 2018, and that they remained in detention.

The report stated that the broadcaster had only recently confirmed the arrests, and believed they were “held as part of what is seen as an intimidation campaign aimed at preventing him [Eset] from reporting on rights abuses.”

In a video published on Twitter, Eset’s daughter confirmed her relatives’ disappearances and called for Chinese authorities to release them.

“Imprisoning the relatives of Radio Free Asia Uyghur-language journalist Eset Sulaiman as a form of retaliation amounts to barbarism and shows the Chinese authorities’ complete disregard for basic human rights,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Chinese authorities must immediately release Ehet Sulaiman, Ehmet Sulaiman, and any other journalist’s relative arrested in retaliation for their coverage.”

Authorities arrested Eset’s younger brother, Ehmet Sulaiman, in 2017, when he was the deputy head of Kumul prefecture’s Gherbiytagh township; in 2018, authorities arrested his older brother, Ehet Sulaiman, then the director of the Tengritagh Township Teaching District, also in Kumul prefecture, according to the RFA report.

Alet Semet, a researcher based in Germany who met with Sulaiman’s family in 2007 in Kumul, told RFA that five of the journalist’s cousins have also been arrested since 2017. Semet said the arrests were likely related to the fact that Eset is well known.

According to RFA’s interviews with unnamed officials in Xinjiang, both Ehet and Ehmet were removed from their posts and it was unclear where they were currently being held. A staff member at the Tengritagh Police Station told RFA that Ehet’s case was a matter of “national security.”

More than 50 family members of RFA’s Uyghur-language staff have been arrested by Chinese authorities, according to the broadcaster’s report.

RFA’s Uyghur Service has published extensive reports on China’s mass incarceration of up to 1.8 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui ethnic minorities, and others since 2017.

CPJ emailed the Kumul prefecture government requesting comment, but did not receive any reply.

In 2017, CPJ documented how Li Huaiping, the wife of Chinese-American journalist Chen Xiaoping, disappeared in Guangzhou, and is believed to have been forced by police to make a video criticizing her husband’s work. In 2018, CPJ documented Chinese authorities’ detentions of at least nine relatives of U.S.-based journalists for RFA’s Uyghur service.