Osman Zunun

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Police in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region arrested former journalist Osman Zunun in 2018. He is detained at an undisclosed location for allegedly producing “problematic” and “dangerous” books, though no formal charges have been disclosed.

Police in Kashgar arrested Zunun, a former editor-in-chief of the state-owned Kashgar Publishing House, in early 2018, according to Radio Free Asia. Zunun, who retired in 2008, was arrested amid a crackdown on the publishing company, in which several other former and current staffers were detained.

Police also arrested Ablajan Siyit, a deputy editor-in-chief and translator, and Abliz Omer, a former editor-in-chief who retired in the late 1990s, according to the RFA report. The report did not name the other staffers who were arrested.

According to the report, the staffers are accused of producing books that were deemed “problematic” or “dangerous.” 

RFA cited a member of the local judiciary as saying in a phone interview that the arrests were part of a government investigation into books that may be politically sensitive. The judiciary member said that Kashgar Publishing House was accused of publishing more than 600 books that fell into this category. The investigation focused on authors, editors, and those who authorized the publications, according to Radio Free Asia.

When CPJ called the local judiciary in 2018, the person who answered the phone immediately hung up at the mention of Siyit’s name. 

In late 2021, CPJ was unable to determine whether authorities had charged Siyit, Zunun, or Omer with any crimes, or where they were being held. CPJ called the Kashgar Publishing House and the Kashgar Justice Bureau at the numbers listed on their websites, but none of those numbers were in service. 

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. 

CPJ called the Kashgar Public Security Bureau in late 2019, but no one answered the phone. In late 2021, CPJ called the bureau again, but the number was out of service.

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