Erkin Tursun

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Uighur journalist Erkin Tursun is serving a 20-year sentence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on anti-state charges. Police detained Tursun, a television host and producer for the state-owned Ili Television Station in Ghulja county, in March 2018.

Tursun’s arrest came after he produced a program, “The World is Beautiful and Filled with Love and Care,” which documented the financial struggles of three Uighur students. The program won multiple awards, according to a November 2017 press release from the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture Journalists Association, which recognized Tursun as one of the top 10 journalists in the prefecture that year. 

After Tursun’s program on Uighur poverty aired, his regular show “Hopeful Eyes”—a program aimed at children—was canceled and authorities started to investigate him, according to Radio Free Asia

Police detained him in March 2018 for “inciting ethnic hatred, ethnic discrimination, and harboring,” according to news reports and the websites of multiple Chinese embassies

When CPJ called Ili Television Station in late 2018, the person who answered the phone said that she was not familiar with the name. She hung up when asked about Tursun’s program. 

Tursun is detained in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, according to RFA. 

In late 2021, CPJ called the Ghulja county police department, which RFA had reported to be handling the journalist’s case, but its number was no longer in service, and the Ghulja Public Security Bureau’s website had been taken down. 

Tursun has received several regional and national awards for his television work, including being recognized as one of Ghulja’s “Four Elite” people for his work to benefit society, RFA reported. 

Tursun’s son, Arfat Erkin, who lives in the United States, told CPJ via email in late 2019 that many of his relatives were arrested after he publicly spoke out against China’s repression and his father’s detention on social media in September 2018. 

On November 17, 2019, Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times claimed that Erkin Tursun pleaded guilty of the charges and was serving his 20-year prison term. The report did not specify where he was being held.

The arrest came amid China’s ongoing crackdown on the Uighurs, whom authorities have accused of having “politically incorrect” ideas or of being “two-faced,” according to RFA. “Two-faced” means openly supporting but secretly opposing government policy, according to that report. 

A 2019 report by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a U.S. congressional advisory panel, found that China had arbitrarily detained at least one million Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui ethnic minorities, and others, in a “system of extrajudicial mass internment camps.”

The majority population of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang are subject to cultural and religious repression, surveillance, arrest without charge, and internment, according to reports. For fear of government retaliation and further abuses, people inside the region are often reluctant to provide information about those who disappear into state custody, according to news reports. According to an annual survey conducted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in 2019, a vast majority of surveyed journalists who traveled to Xinjiang said they experienced government interference in their reporting.

On April 9, 2021, Chinese officials in Beijing held a press event airing a video of Tursun encouraging his son to return to China. In the video, Tursun said that he will “try my best to change myself and receive the leniency of the party and the government.” 

The journalist’s son told CPJ via email and also posted on Twitter that he was “somewhat relieved” to see his father still alive, but said he was “almost unrecognizable.”

“I can’t even imagine how much psychological pain he had to endure to be forced to say all those things [in the video],” Arfat Erkin said.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Prison Administration and the Xinjiang People’s Procuratorate did not respond to CPJ’s email requesting information about Tursun’s health and status in late 2021.