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 U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA).

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. 

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. 

On November 17, 2019, Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times claimed that 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” is used by the authorities to describe those they see as openly supporting but secretly opposing government policy. 

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 commission’s 2022 report noted that China has continued to expand Xinjiang’s detention facilities, including mass internment camps, and maintained a system of forced labor involving camp detainees.

The majority population of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang are subject to cultural and religious repression, surveillance, arrest without charge, and internment. 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 an annual survey conducted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in 2022, a vast majority of surveyed journalists who traveled to Xinjiang said they experienced government interference in their reporting.

In 2021, Chinese officials aired a propaganda video of Tursun, according to news reports and the journalist’s son, Arfat Erkin, who wrote about the video on Twitter (which later changed its name to X) and communicated with CPJ via email. In the video, which was republished on Chinese news websites, Tursun says that he will “try my best to change myself and receive the leniency of the party and the government” and encourages his son to return to China. 

In October 2023, CPJ sent messages to the Xinjiang governmental service and the Xinjiang region prison administration via messaging app about Tursun but received no replies.