Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have arrested the Uyghur deputy editor-in-chief and three Uyghur directors of the Xinjiang Daily accused of being “two-faced” officials, according to sources from the state-run newspaper.
Ilham Weli, the Xinjiang Daily’s deputy editor-in-chief and director of the Uyghur Editorial Office, was arrested in late July, while directors Memtimin Obul and Juret Haji, and Mirkamil Ablimit, the head of the subsidiary Xinjiang Farmer’s Daily, were denounced during a public meeting at the newspaper’s offices and taken away by police in early August, the sources told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
While the exact reason for their arrest was not made clear, authorities accused them of publishing “two-faced” articles in the Uyghur language section of the newspaper—a term applied by the government to Uyghur cadres who pay lip service to Communist Party rule in the XUAR, but secretly chafe against state policies repressing members of their ethnic group.
Xinjiang Daily Human Resources director Liu Jianrong confirmed that the four men had been taken into custody.
“It is true that four Uyghur cadres have been arrested,” he told RFA.
“I know they made some mistakes. You can ask the Party Discipline Committee of our paper to find out what specific mistakes they made and where they are being held now.”
Xinjiang Daily Party Discipline Committee director Shui Baoying told RFA that the Autonomous Regional Party Discipline Commission had dispatched a working group to investigate the paper in early July and, during the course of their probe, found evidence “implicating deputy editor-in-chief Ilham Weli as ‘two-faced.’”
“The working group then specifically investigated his case and we faithfully cooperated,” Shui said.
“After law enforcement thoroughly interrogated Ilham Weli, it was found he had accomplices. They were detained on Aug. 6, a week after Ilham Weli was taken into custody. I know that three of them were arrested during a public meeting at our daily after being accused of being ‘two-faced’ officials.”
Shui said that the working group’s investigation had found no problems with articles published in the Chinese, Kazakh, or Mongolian language sections of the Xinjiang Daily—only with those in the Uyghur language section.
“There was no issue of being ‘two-faced’ in other sections, and the problems were mainly found in the published articles, but I’m not sure which specific articles or news reports,” Shui said.
“I am not sure which prison they were taken to,” he said, adding that further inquiries should be directed to the Autonomous Regional Party Discipline Commission.
An official who answered at the Autonomous Regional Party Discipline Commission said he could not accept phone interviews, and requested that the reporter travel to the commission’s office in the XUAR capital Urumqi.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in political re-education camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
While authorities have generally avoided harassing the families of Uyghur security personnel and public servants during past crackdowns in the XUAR, reports suggest that even those who serve the state risk arrest amid a string of harsh policies attacking the rights and freedoms of Uyghurs enacted since Communist Party secretary Chen Quanguo was appointed to run the region in August 2016.
Jurat Nizamidin, a former reporter with the Xinjiang Daily who currently resides in the U.S., told RFA that he had worked with the four men for between three and 15 years before relocating, and called them all “deeply devoted to their profession.”
“I don’t see how they could possibly have said or written something critical of Beijing, although it is likely that some articles they were responsible for contained something that—while not anti-government—the authorities didn’t like,” he said.
Nizamidin said it is “hard to avoid such mistakes” for anyone working in the fast-paced media industry.
“I guess they were targeted because of their ethnicity, and possibly due to their lack of enthusiasm in supporting government policies as expected by the authorities,” he added.
China's central government authorities have rarely acknowledged the existence of political re-education camps in the XUAR, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret. But local officials in many parts of the region have in RFA telephone interviews described sending significant numbers of Uyghurs to the camps and even described overcrowding in some facilities.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the re-education camps, which equates to 10-11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region.
Last month, a delegate from China present for the country’s review at the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) admitted the existence of "resettlement or re-education programs," but said the suggestion that some 1 million Uyghurs were held in the camps was “completely untrue.” He refused to provide information about how many are detained in the facilities.
The U.S. State Department is “deeply troubled by the Chinese government’s worsening crackdown” on the Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, a department official recently told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Credible reports indicate that individuals sent by Chinese authorities to detention centers since April 2017 numbers at least in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions,” the official said.
The official warned that “indiscriminate and disproportionate controls on ethnic minorities’ expressions of their cultural and religious identities have the potential to incite radicalization and recruitment to violence.”
A group of U.S. lawmakers, in a recent letter, asked President Donald Trump’s administration to “swiftly act” to sanction Chinese government officials and entities complicit in or directing the “ongoing human rights crisis” in Xinjiang.
“The detention of as many as a million or more Uyghurs and other predominately Muslim ethnic minorities in ‘political re-education’ centers or camps requires a tough, targeted, and global response,” lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who lead the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a joint statement.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.