May 03, 2016

East Turkestan: Lack of Media Freedom Contributing to Human Rights Violations in China

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has released a statement on media freedom in China for World Press Freedom Day. URHP highlights the damaging consequences of China’s extreme repression of media freedom, linking it to the deteriorating human rights situation in East Turkestan. The statement emphasises that a free and open press is essential for obtaining an objective perspective of the situation of the Uyghurs, for documenting incidents of state repression and for challenging the official narrative regarding Chinese policies in the region. 


Below is a press release from the Uyghur Human Rights Project:

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2016, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) emphasizes the negative effects of Chinese government restrictions on reporting in East Turkestan. UHRP believes the tight controls placed on domestic and overseas media in the region have contributed to the decline in human rights conditions for the Uyghur people. UHRP asserts that the development of a free and open press in East Turkestan is a prerequisite for not only attaining an impartial assessment of the situation in the region, but also for monitoring state repression of Uyghur human rights.

“China does not shy away from limiting press freedom in East Turkestan. To have journalists freely asking difficult questions about the Chinese state’s human rights record towards Uyghurs is not in the best interests of Chinese officials. Through severe repression of press freedom, China ensures the narrative that its policies are not at fault for the instability in East Turkestan remains unchallenged,” said UHRP Director Alim Seytoff in a statement.

Mr. Seytoff added: “The tight controls facing the media in East Turkestan have been well documented and indicate China’s aim to conceal the wide range of human rights violations committed in the region. Whenever there is a serious incident involving Uyghurs it is almost impossible to get at the truth because the Chinese government censors any narrative that contradicts official accounts.”

In reports from the leading press freedom monitors, China’s record on censorship and harassment of journalists has been unequivocally condemned. China ranks 176th worst for press freedom out of 180 states in Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index. Freedom House’s annual survey of press freedom published in 2016 placed China in the “Not Free” category. In its 2015 prison census, the Committee to Protect Journalists documented 49 journalists imprisoned in China (of them 14 are Uyghur) out of a global total of 199.

China prevents and punishes commentary, domestic and foreign, critical of the repression in East Turkestan and in particular of alleged counter-terror measures in the region. The cases of Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, Xinjiang Daily editor Zhao Xinwei and French reporter Ursula Gauthier demonstrate Beijing’s zero tolerance for such questioning. In the case of Ursula Gauthier, Xinhua accused the reporter of using press freedom as a cover to advocate for terrorism. The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China has documented harassment of overseas journalists reporting from East Turkestan since at least 2008.

China also intimidates reporters based overseas in an attempt to control state accounts on conditions in East Turkestan. Three brothers in Urumchi of Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporter Shohret Hoshur were detained in 2014 and 2015 (two were later released). The arrests came after Hoshur published a series of articles on the unrest in East Turkestan that exposed vulnerabilities in state narratives and he is credited with being one of few journalists to accurately report on events.

Uyghurs who speak to the media about conditions in China are routinely punished. Patigul Ghulam was arrested in May 2014 approximately a month after an interview she gave to RFA’s Uyghur Service about official noncooperation in finding her son missing since unrest in Urumchi on July 5, 2009. Ghulam was reportedly sentenced in a closed trial in April 2016, and her current whereabouts and sentencing are unknown.

Chinese authorities are currently holding Ershidin Israel incommunicado after his deportation from Kazakhstan in 2011. Ershidin Israel fled from China to Kazakhstan in September 2009 after informing RFA reporters about the beating to death of Uyghur Shohret Tursun. Israel also informed RFA about the arrest of two other Uyghur individuals, Haji Memet and Abdusalam Nasir, whom Chinese authorities had also accused of providing information to RFA about Tursun’s death. 

In a 2014 report, Trapped in a Virtual Cage: Chinese State Repression of Uyghurs Online, UHRP found the Chinese state particularly employs Internet shutdowns, illustrated in the unparalleled 10-month blackout in the post-July 5, 2009 period, as a further measure to prevent the dissemination of counter-official narratives.

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.

See also:

Xinjiang, Terror, and China’s Contempt for Freedom of the Press

Xinjiang suffers information blockade four years after demonstrations

The right to a free press