NEW YORK (April 15, 2021) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) strongly condemns the Chinese government’s forced testimony of the family members of Uyghur-American journalist and former Oslo Freedom Forum speaker Gulchehra Hoja.
“The forced testimonials of Gulchehra Hoja’s mother and brother are a wicked illustration of the brutality of the regime and reveal just how far the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will go to censor activists overseas, while the world witnesses the mounting evidence of the CCP’s crimes against humanity as they seek to exterminate the Uyghur people in China,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “This is an outrageous and futile effort to smear Gulchehra Hoja’s tireless efforts of exposing the party’s lies.”
In an article published by China’s state-owned Zhejiang News, the Chinese government published a video where Hoja’s mother and brother were coerced to say on camera that they had been living normal lives in Xinjiang. They were also made to condemn Hoja’s journalism in the United States. In addition, the article falsely claims that Hoja’s parents are unable to travel due to poor health and medical conditions, and therefore have “no intention of going abroad.”
Hoja’s brother was arrested in 2017 and spent three years in an internment camp in the Xinjiang region, and her mother was arrested in 2018 and spent two months in a different camp before being released. Hoja’s parents have repeatedly been denied passports by the Chinese government, preventing them from travelling abroad, in retaliation for their daughter’s work as a Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalist.
In the same article in Zhejiang News, the Chinese government attacked Hoja for her activism on behalf of the Uyghur community, incorrectly claiming that Hoja participated in an unnamed “terrorist organization” without providing further details. The Chinese government has consistently justified its abusive treatment toward the Uyghur population, as well as its crackdown on freedom of expression, under the guise of combating terrorism, despite a lack of evidence. The article also criticizes her for testifying at a U.S. congressional hearing on the human rights situation in Xinjiang as well as for attending a meeting with then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss human rights issues in China.
On several occasions since 2019, Uyghurs whose family members abroad have reported the enforced disappearances of their loved ones, and launched advocacy campaigns in their names, have been the targets of Chinese state-owned media. The CCP has released “proof-of-life” videos of their family members claiming to be happy, healthy, and living in freedom. The videos are typically heavily stylized and manipulated with participants being coerced to lie about their wellbeing and repeat Chinese propaganda. These smear campaigns are part of a larger persecution campaign and genocide of the Uyghur people in China.
“The level of mendacity and cruelty involved in denying a crime against humanity by parading the kidnapped victims of the crime to publicly denounce their loved ones reminds one of the history of Nazi Germany, with postcards being sent from those in concentration camps claiming that they were happy and well taken care of in their internment camps,” said Halvorssen.
Gulchehra Hoja has been a journalist with RFA’s Uyghur Service since 2001. She has interviewed countless detainment camp escapees, prison guards, and other officials, chronicling the atrocities the Chinese government has committed against the Uyghur people in “re-education” facilities, which are in fact internment camps that arbitrarily imprison Muslim ethnic minorities in the region. She received the 2019 Magnitsky Human Rights Award as well as the 2020 International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage in Journalism Award for her reporting on the human rights crisis in Xinjiang. In her talk at the 2020 Oslo Freedom Forum, she reflected on her experience as a journalist exposing China’s Uyghur internment camps, and explained why it is so important to keep speaking out against injustice toward the Uyghurs in China
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.