On World Press Freedom Day 2019, governments must act to protect Uyghur journalists and call for independent reporting on internment camps

For immediate release

May 1, 2019 2:00 pm EST

Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

“3 May acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom”

-UNESCO

On World Press Freedom Day, governments and the United Nations must call on China to free interned and imprisoned Uyghur journalists and to open East Turkestan to foreign reporters.

Over the past two years, China has undertaken a campaign of mass-internment of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples. Among the disappeared and interned are large numbers of Uyghur journalist and editors.

China has attempted to manage information on the camps to defend its assertion the facilities are not places of indoctrination and torture but so-called ‘vocational training centers.’ Overseas journalists who have visited the region to investigate note a high degree of harassment from Chinese police and security forces with the aim of preventing an independent account of conditions.

“Now is the time for governments and the United Nations to speak out against China’s mass-internment campaign and to insist on independent accounts of conditions in the internment camps. The founding charter of the United Nations calls for a response to acts of aggression and it is unconscionable that organizations designed to protect the vulnerable will not act,” said UHRP Director Omer Kanat.

Mr. Kanat added: “The Chinese authorities are quick to silence Uyghur journalists through imprisonment and internment. The state fears any contradiction to its propaganda and knows press freedom in East Turkestan would result in the kind of scrutiny and criticism it cannot stomach. The bravery of Uyghurs willing to share information free of state interference should be matched by the efforts of concerned governments to defend them.”

In March 2019, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) documented nearly 400 intellectuals disappeared, interned, or imprisoned by the Chinese authorities.  Of this number, 58 are journalists, editors, or publishers. At least 20 Uyghur employees of Xinjiang Educational Press, five members of the Xinjiang Gazette’s Uyghur Editorial Department, and 13 current and former employees of Kashgar Uyghur Press, representing the current and past leadership, have been interned or otherwise punished.

Bahram Sintash, the son of journalist and editor Qurban Mahmut, told UHRP: “My dad worked 14 hours a day on the magazine [Xinjiang Civilization], editing works by all the famous Uyghur writers and working to help our people. Uyghurs needed to know about the world and China. He worked from the heart.”

China’s repression of Uyghur journalists extends overseas. Radio Free Asia Uyghur Service reporters Gulchehra Hoja, Shohret Hoshur, Mamatjan Juma, Jilil Kashgary, Kurban Niyaz, and Eset Sulaiman describe how Chinese authorities have arbitrarily detained family members in camps as part of a campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing these journalists because of their work in uncovering “unreported news and documenting human rights abuses under heavy-handed Chinese rule in their homeland in northwestern China.”

Overseas journalists have attempted to report on the vast internment camp system in East Turkestan, often facing constant harassment throughout their work. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China noted in a 2019 report on working conditions that “[r]apidly expanding surveillance and widespread government interference against reporting in the country’s far northwestern region of Xinjiang drove a significant deterioration in the work environment for foreign journalists in China in 2018.”

New York Times journalist Paul Mozur described how plainclothes police followed him during a recent assignment to East Turkestan. Police even staged a car collision to block access to an area just outside of Kashgar.

Leading press freedom monitors have unequivocally condemned China’s record on censorship and harassment of journalists. China ranks 177th worst for press freedom out of 180 states in Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2017 report placed China in the “Not Free” category. In its 2018 prison census, the Committee to Protect Journalists documented 47 journalists imprisoned in China (of them an alarming 23 are Uyghur, including Gulmire Imin, Ilham Tohti, Gheyret Niyaz, and Omerjan Hasan).

International standards of press freedom are outlined in a series of legal instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Freedom of speech and the press are guaranteed under Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

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