The US State Department on Thursday urged Chinese authorities to cease harassing the family of an award-winning Uyghur journalist after it was revealed that three of his brothers were detained in the restive Xinjiang region. As the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed five years of harassment against the family of Shohret Hoshur of Radio Free Asia (RFA), the State Department indicated it had raised the issue with the Chinese embassy in Washington DC. “We urge Chinese authorities to cease harassment of his family and to treat them fairly and with dignity,” said Jen Psaki, a US State Department spokesman. Amid fears that releasing information could worsen the situation, RFA revealed for the first time a pattern of harassment against Hoshur, one of the only journalists in the world to write and broadcast in the Uyghur language about the troubles in Xinjiang. Harassment by Chinese authorities began in 2009 after Hoshur wrote about a Uyghur who was tortured to death, worsening dramatically last year when one of his brothers was sentenced to five years in prison for violating state security laws, according to the CPJ. Authorities then detained the two other brothers after they discussed the verdict by phone with Hoshur, who lives in Washington DC, effectively in exile given his role for the RFA. “The conversation between me and my brothers about our third brother’s trial was a private conversation about a serious matter that deeply concerns my family,” Hoshur said in an emailed statement to the CPJ. “I find it very difficult to believe this conversation could be used as the basis of the charges brought against my brothers for ‘leaking state secrets’ and ‘endangering state security’.” Chinese authorities have not brought formal charges against the two brothers and as yet no trial date has been set, according to the RFA. “Hoshur is asking for publicity of this case with the hope that international attention could help ease the pressure on his family,” said Jennifer Chou, the RFA’s deputy director of programming. “Hoshur believes his three brothers have been wrongly arrested and charged as a means to intimidate and even silence him as a journalist reporting on sensitive issues in China.” Asked Friday about the case, Hong Lei, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, dismissed the allegations as groundless. "The reports you mentioned are totally baseless and are not worth refuting," Hong said at a regular briefing. Beijing blames Xinjiang-related violence on "religious extremists", "separatists" and "terrorists", and has responded by launching a crackdown in the region, with hundreds of arrests and around 50 death sentences or executions announced since June. Chinese authorities have in the past reportedly used threats and intimidation against family members of dissidents and religious leaders. Similar cases against Chinese living abroad and involving the harassment of so many relatives remain rare, however. The persecution of Hoshur’s family coincided with an increasingly violent cycle of retribution between Xinjiang separatists and China’s state security last year.
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At least 175 people have died in violent Xinjiang-related incidents in the past six months despite a one-year security crackdown that began in May. In a bid to eradicate religious extremism in Xinjiang, authorities last year tightened already severe restrictions against minority Uyghur Muslims including a ban on under-18s visiting mosques. Additional reporting by AFP