Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have jailed the Uyghur former host of a popular children’s television show, according to sources, who said he was targeted for producing a program that detailed the financial struggles of three young students.
A source with ties to the XUAR recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that Erkin Tursun, the host of the “Hopeful Eyes” show on the official Ili Television Station in the XUAR’s Ili Kazakh (in Chinese, Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, was arrested by police in Ghulja (Yining) county in March and later sentenced to as many as 11 years in prison.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that after Tursun produced a program last year to public acclaim entitled “The World is Beautiful and Filled With Love and Care”—documenting the bid by three Uyghur children to attain an education in the face of poverty— “Hopeful Eyes” was shut down and he became the key figure in an investigation by local authorities.
A staff member at Ili Television Station told RFA that “there is no such person working here,” when asked about Tursun, but said that further details were “inconvenient to discuss over the phone” and suggested that the interviewer make inquiries in person.
But an employee at Ghulja county’s Hudiyaryuz township police department, which a source told RFA had orchestrated Tursun’s arrest, confirmed that the television producer had been taken into custody, although he said it was by police from a neighboring township.
“The Jiliyuz Police Department,” the employee said when asked who was involved in Tursun’s arrest, adding that he had later been turned over to authorities in Ghulja city.
When pressed on the reason behind the detention, the employee said that the information is “beyond my knowledge and scope of work,” before refusing to answer any further questions.
Tursun’s arrest and sentencing came despite nearly 30 years working as a journalist at Ili Television Station, during which time he produced more than 10 programs that received regional and national awards.
Tursun was among a dozen people from Ili to receive a Most Progressive Person award from the government, was once recognized as one of Ghulja’s “Four Elite” people for the work he had done to benefit society, and was actively engaged in organizing cultural and sporting events for the community, as well as historical field trips for local pupils.
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.
Western governments have increasingly drawn attention to re-education camps in the XUAR in recent months as media reports detail the stories of Uyghurs who have been detained in the facilities.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert recently said the U.S. government was "deeply troubled" by the crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, adding that “credible reports indicate that individuals sent by Chinese authorities to detention centers since April 2017 number at least in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions.”
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the re-education camps, which equates to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), a U.S. congressional advisory panel, recently issued an annual report on China’s human rights situation, calling it “dire” and on a “continued downward trajectory, by virtually every measure.”
“Of particular concern is the mass, arbitrary, internment of as many as 1 million or more Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in “political reeducation” camps in western China,” the report said.
Senator Marco Rubio, CECC chairman, and Representative Chris Smith, co-chairman of the body, said they plan to introduce the Xinjiang Uygur Human Rights Act, which would “direct U.S. resources to address gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over a million Uyghurs and other predominately Muslim ethnic minorities in China and the intimidation and threats faced by U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.”
Chinese authorities had earlier denied the existence of internment camps, but last week they launched a state media propaganda blitz extolling the success in countering extremism of what they now call "employment training centers.”
China’s state-run news agency Xinhua quoted a senior Chinese official as saying that Muslims in Xinjiang must practice “Chinese-style Islam” to promote ethnic solidarity and religious harmony in the troubled region.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.