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China remains world’s top jailer of journalists: report

19 out of 44 journalists imprisoned in China are from minority Uyghur community, says press watchdog
Ilham Tohti, an economics professor, Uyghur rights activist and founder of news website Uighurbiz, is serving a life sentence on alleged charge of separatism.

Ilham Tohti, an economics professor, Uyghur rights activist and founder of news website Uighurbiz, is serving a life sentence on alleged charge of separatism. (Photo; AFP)

Published: January 22, 2024 12:09 PM GMT
Updated: January 22, 2024 12:31 PM GMT

About 32 percent of journalists jailed worldwide are in China and are detained on trumped-up charges filed by the communist regime, says a report from a global press watchdog.

A total of 44 journalists are imprisoned in China, making it the world’s top jailer of journalists, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported citing the 2023 Prison Census Report from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“China has long ranked as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists,” the CPJ said.

“Censorship makes the exact number of journalists jailed there notoriously difficult to determine,” the group explained.

“Beijing’s media crackdown has widened in recent years, with 2021 marking the first time journalists from Hong Kong were in jail at the time of CPJ’s census,” the group further added.

Reportedly, most of the journalists behind bars in China are Uyghurs who reported on the persecution of the mostly Muslim group in Xinjiang.

“Many journalists charged are ethnic Uighurs from Xinjiang, where Beijing has been accused of crimes against humanity for its mass detentions and harsh repression of the region’s mostly Muslim ethnic groups,” the group said.

The report cited Hong Kong and Xinjiang were areas of major concern. Out of the 44 journalists imprisoned in China, 19 were Uyghurs.

Myanmar occupied the second spot with 43 journalists imprisoned. Vietnam was fifth on the list with 19, ahead of Iran and just behind Russia.

Beh Lih Yi, the CPJ’s Asia program coordinator alleged that the disproportionate number of jailed Uyghur journalists mirrors the situation in Xinjiang.

“Nearly half of the journalists behind bars in China in 2023 were Uyghur journalists. They have been targeted under vague charges such as inciting separatism or being ‘two-faced,’” Yi said.

“Two-faced,” is a loose term that Chinese authorities often use to punish those they see as publicly supporting government policy but secretly opposing it, Yi said.

“The media repression highlights the Chinese government's harsh attempt to silence minority voices and independent reporting – even as Beijing repeatedly rejected claims of widespread human rights abuses in Xinjiang,” Yi alleged.

Yi condemned the Chinese government for the “outrageous and cruel,” long-term sentences handed down to the Uyghur journalists while urging for their release and permitting journalists to freely report in Xinjiang.

Ilham Tohti, a top Uyghur economist and rights advocate who founded the news website Uighurbiz is also among the imprisoned journalists. He is currently serving a life sentence on charges of separatism for his criticism of China’s persecution of Uyghurs.

Apart from Tohti, Qurban Mamut, the former editor-in-chief of the popular Uyghur journal Xinjiang Civilization is also serving a 15-year jail sentence for “political crimes.”

Mamut was reported missing in November 2017 and an RFA investigation in 2022 revealed his whereabouts.

The report also alleged China of ramping up the use of anti-state charges to hold journalists.

CPJ pointed out that three out of the five new China cases in the group’s 2023 database consisted of “journalists accused of espionage, inciting separatism, or subverting state power.”

Zubayra Shamseden of the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project alleged that China was imprisoning Uyghur journalists to stop the international community from knowing about their plight.

“It is clear from the imprisonment of Uyghur journalists that China doesn’t want the international community to know anything about Uyghurs,” Shamseden said.

“Uyghur journalists report on Uyghur issues. They are the voices of the Uyghur people in the world. By imprisoning Uyghur journalists, China is attempting to crush the voices of Uyghurs,” Shamseden added.

The report also noted that Israel, which is currently at war with the Palestinian armed group, Hamas, saw a huge spike in journalist jailings in 2023.

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