Osman Zunun

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

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 the city of Kashgar arrested Zunun, a former editor-in-chief of the state-owned Kashgar Publishing House, in early 2018, according to U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA). 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.

The Kashgar Publishing House published books on literature, history, politics, and other topics, and also issued annual reports on local counties and cities, including Kashgar Yearbook, a publication documenting legal, political, demographic, and military developments in the city, according to the China Academic Journals Electronic Publishing House’s database

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. 

In late 2023, 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 arrests 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 October 2023, CPJ sent messages to the Kashgar Public Security Bureau, the Xinjiang governmental service, and the Xinjiang region prison administration via messaging app about Zunun but received no replies.