HONG KONG—Authorities at a Chinese government-run radio station in the remote Xinjiang region have fired and detained an ethnic Uyghur woman working there, apparently for criticizing government policy, Uyghur sources have said.
Mehbube Ablesh, 29, was removed from her post at Xinjiang People's Radio Station several weeks ago, according to two colleagues at the government-run station in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Ablesh, who studied journalism, was employed in the station’s advertising department, although her exact duties there weren’t immediately clear.
“She was fired a month ago. Now we hear she is in prison and we don’t have any information about Mehbube’s prison situation,” one colleague said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We tried to lead her in the right direction but she didn’t listen to us.”
"Our department is a journalism department—people should be very careful because it is a very sensitive place."
“Management already held a meeting and told all 60 employees that Mehbube committed mistakes. She wrote articles for Web sites. I don’t know which Web sites, and I don’t know what she wrote about or what she discussed, [but] she wrote articles for Web sites and so she has been arrested by the police,” the colleague said.
Another colleague confirmed her removal from the station “about one month ago."
A third source, based in Europe, said he had been in contact with Ablesh and that in her messages she had sharply criticized top provincial leaders and the government's policy of requiring Mandarin-language teaching. She may have been detained because of this, he said.
“Our department is a journalism department—people should be very careful because it is a very sensitive place,” the first source said.
"She prayed. But she didn’t wear a headscarf. What she did was wrong. The government provided her everything—a good job, everything. It is the same everywhere, in America too. If the government provides you a good job, everything, and you speak out against the government, you will be punished. Isn’t it so?”
A radio station employee, contacted by telephone, declined to discuss the matter.
"It is too sensitive to talk about issues like this. You can verify the issue through other channels. It may be a normal thing to talk about it somewhere else, but this is Xinjiang. It’s too sensitive," the employee said.
Radio employees declined to comment further and referred questions to the police and Public Security Bureau. Officials at both offices declined to comment.
Xinjiang People's Radio currently broadcasts a total of 111 hours daily in Uyghur, Mandarin, Kazak, Mongolian, and Kyrgyz, according to its official Web site.
Following a string of violent attacks in remote, northwestern Xinjiang, Chinese authorities are stepping up restrictions on Muslim Uyghurs during the fasting month of Ramadan. Police say women are being forced to uncover their faces in public, while restrictions on teaching Islam to Uyghur children are being intensified.
Restaurants run by Muslims are forbidden to close in daytime during the fasting month, as is the custom in other Islamic regions of the world, according to official statements on government Web sites in Xinjiang.
Exiled Uyghur groups said Uyghur government cadres throughout Xinjiang had been forced to sign “letters of responsibility” promising to avoid fasting, evening prayers, or other religious activities.
Xinjiang is a vast region bordering Central Asia rich in natural resources with several key strategic borders with China’s neighbors.
China is home to up to 11 million Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking minority group that formed two short-lived East Turkestan republics in the 1930s and 40s during the Chinese civil war and the Japanese invasion.
In its 2008 report on human rights worldwide, New York-based Human Rights Watch cited "drastic controls over religious, cultural, and political expression" by Muslims in Xinjiang.
"There is widespread evidence that the government uses isolated incidents to conflate any expression of public discontent with terrorism or separatism," it said.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Additional reporting by Qiaolong for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated by Omer Kanat. Uyghur service director: Dolkum Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.