More than half of the 27 journalists imprisoned in China are ethnic Tibetan or Uyghur, says the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) in a report posted on its website.
In addition, two Uyghur journalists have been unaccounted for since their scheduled 2011 release. These cases are “added proof that they were arrested to deprive their communities of a voice”, says Madeline Earp, senior researcher for CPJ’s Asia Program.
“The trend dates back to ethnic unrest in the Tibetan and Xinjiang autonomous regions in 2008 and 2009,” added Earp in her report, “news of which Chinese authorities censored at the time”.
Reporter Abdulghani Memetemin was handed a nine year prison sentence in 2002 for “leaking state secrets” , and Mehbube Ablesh a three–year term on separatism charges in 2008. Both were scheduled for release in 2011, but remain non-contactable and little information is forthcoming on their cases.
Other cases cited by Earp include Dhondup Wangchen who sent his family from Tibet to Dharamsala, India before his work on a documentary on Tibetan life under Chinese rule led to his arrest in 2008; Uyghur website manager Gheyret Niyaz who was jailed for accepting an interview with Hong Kong media; and Dilixiati Paerhati whose UK-based brother helped break news of his disappearance.
The only bright spot in CPJ’s 2011 census of imprisoned journalists: China is no longer the world’s worst jailer of the press. It was pushed to third place on the list by Iran and Eritrea, which have 42 and 28 reporters behind bars respectively.