Erkin Tursun

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Police in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region detained Uighur journalist Erkin Tursun, a television host and producer for the state-owned Ili Television Station in Ghulja county, in March 2018 and sentenced him to up to 11 years in jail, according to Radio Free Asia. Authorities accused him of having “politically incorrect” ideas and being “two-faced,” but CPJ could not determine the formal charges on which he was sentenced.

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 RFA. 

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. CPJ could not determine the exact length of his sentence.

CPJ’s calls to the Ghulja county’s police department, which according to RFA is handling the journalist’s case, went unanswered in September 2019.

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, Alfred Tursun, 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. He did not have any new information on his father’s whereabouts or health condition in late 2019.

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. An October 2018 report by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a U.S. congressional advisory panel, found “mass, arbitrary, internment of as many as 1 million or more [Uighurs] and other Muslim ethnic minorities in ‘political reeducation’ camps in western China.”

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 news reports. According to an annual survey conducted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in 2018, a vast majority of surveyed journalists who traveled to Xinjiang said they experienced government interference in their reporting. CPJ has also documented cases of foreign correspondents and local journalists facing harassment and detention in Xinjiang.