US journalists fear China detained their families

US-based journalists fear that Chinese authorities have snatched their relatives as punishment for their reports on the mass detention of Uighurs in “political reeducation centers” across Xinjiang. (AFP)
Updated 05 March 2018
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US journalists fear China detained their families

BEIJING: When American journalist Gulchehra Hoja and her colleagues first began exposing a secretive network of reeducation centers in China’s far west, they never imagined that their families might one day end up in one.
But when calls to relatives went unanswered, they realized that something had gone terribly wrong in Xinjiang, home to China’s Uighur Muslim minority.
“It was like a bomb going off in my head,” said Hoja, a reporter at the US government-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) news service, describing how she felt when she learned that as many as 20 of her relatives had disappeared.
She and her colleagues fear Chinese authorities snatched their family members as punishment for their reports on the mass detention of Uighurs in “political reeducation centers” across Xinjiang.
The authorities are “using my brother as a kind of hostage to pressure me to quit,” said Mamatjan Juma, an RFA reporter who believes two of his brothers have been detained since May.
In recent months, Chinese authorities have cracked down hard on Xinjiang’s 10 million Uighurs, placing draconian restrictions on their daily lives in the name of combating terror.
Hoja is one of six Uighur reporters whose families are believed to have been detained by Chinese authorities, according to RFA spokesman Rohit MaHajjan, who said the company has discussed the cases with the US State Department and members of Congress.
“We urge the Chinese government to provide information about the health of the missing relatives and to return them safely to their homes post-haste,” Libby Liu, RFA’s president, said in a statement.
US embassy Beijing spokeswoman Jinnie Lee said Washington is “concerned” by the detentions and “deeply troubled by reports of an ongoing and deepening crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslims in China.”
The Chinese foreign ministry declined to comment.
Some of the reporters have waited almost a year for movement on the cases, but decided to make their stories public after seeing no progress.
RFA’s Uighur service was launched in December 1998 to broadcast Uighur language news into China, part of the company’s mandate to provide news to Asian countries “whose governments prohibit access to a free press.”
The journalists began reporting about the mass disappearances late last spring.
People of all ages were being swept up by the police, often for seemingly trivial offenses related to religion, from sending Ramadan greetings to friends on social media to growing a “strange” beard.
By following official social media accounts and calling local police, the reporters learned that tens of thousands were being sent to detention centers for months at a time and subjected to intense political indoctrination.
Chinese authorities have long linked their crackdown on Uighur Muslims to international counter-terrorism efforts, arguing that separatists are bent on joining foreign extremists like Al-Qaeda.
Uighurs have been tied to mass stabbings and bombings that left dozens dead in recent years across the country. Riots and clashes with the government killed hundreds more.
Chinese authorities have denied the detention centers exist.
But regulations aimed at curbing religious extremism adopted by Xinjiang’s government last March clearly call for authorities to step up the use of political reeducation.
An AFP review of state media reports and government documents verified the existence of at least 30 such centers and almost 4,000 cases of people being sent to them.
Shortly after RFA began posting its first reports on the centers, information about them began to disappear from Chinese websites.
Hoja started a career in local television at the age of 11 and had become a popular television host in Xinjiang.
But a radio broadcast from RFA changed her life: “It was so powerful. I’d never heard that kind of voice. It completely changed me.”
She joined RFA in 2001.
When Chinese authorities realized she had fled the country, they began pressuring her parents into making her come back, promising a high-paying job and luxury housing.
During her 17 years at RFA, none of her relatives had been detained — until last spring.
When she heard the news through friends with relatives living in the US, she frantically tried to contact her family members, but no one answered, she said.
She finally reached an aunt: “She said ‘don’t call me. Don’t call anybody. Just hang up’.”
Despite concerns for their families, the reporters vow to continue their work.
“This is the only voice for my voiceless people,” Hoja said.
“Other listeners just give their time to listen to the radio. Uighurs give their lives.”


WhatsApp says working with India’s Reliance Jio to curb fake news menace

The WhatsApp messaging application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 September 2018
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WhatsApp says working with India’s Reliance Jio to curb fake news menace

  • More than 30 people have died this year in mob violence triggered by vitriolic messages on social media and WhatsApp, according to unofficial estimates, and police have previously told Reuters that minorities have been targeted

MUMBAI: Facebook’s WhatsApp is working closely with Reliance Jio to spread awareness of false messages, weeks after the Indian telecoms operator opened up the messaging service to tens of millions of customers using its cheap Internet-enabled phone.
Jio this month gave its more than 25 million JioPhone customers, many of them first-time Internet users, access to WhatsApp at a time when the messaging service is battling false and incendiary texts and videos circulating on its platform.
Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, launched the JioPhone last year at a refundable deposit of 1,500 rupees ($20.60). The device is Internet enabled but didn’t initially allow the use of WhatsApp or have several popular smartphone features.
All new users of the JioPhone get educational material that tells them about spotting a forwarded WhatsApp message and encourages them to share messages thoughtfully, WhatsApp spokesman Carl Woog told Reuters.
“We are working closely with Jio to continue our education campaign for WhatsApp users,” Woog said.
In India’s smaller towns and villages, deep-seated prejudices, often based on caste and religion, and cut-price mobile data can aggravate the so-called fake news problem. Such regions are a key market for cheap devices such as the JioPhone.
More than 30 people have died this year in mob violence triggered by vitriolic messages on social media and WhatsApp, according to unofficial estimates, and police have previously told Reuters that minorities have been targeted in some remote and rural regions.
That has prompted New Delhi to call on WhatsApp to take immediate action to “end this menace.”
WhatsApp has already taken some steps to quell the rise of fake news. It has launched print and radio ad campaigns to educate users and introduced new features on the app including limiting message forward as well as the labelling of forwarded messages.
It has also partnered with Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), a New Delhi-based non-profit organization, to spread digital literacy in India’s towns and cities.
DEF will host a workshop in the eastern Indian city of Ranchi this week, WhatsApp’s Woog said.
WhatsApp also plans to expand its outreach program to existing JioPhone users.
Reliance Jio did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
With more than 200 million users, India is a key market for WhatsApp but one where it has had to delay the official launch of its payments services due to the country’s push on data localization.
WhatsApp is currently looking for an India chief and a policy head for the country.
It last month appointed a grievance officer for Indian users at its Menlo Park, California headquarters, like other global tech firms whose grievance officers sit outside of India.
India has, however, said it will toughen up its laws including pushing US tech giants to have their grievance officers in India.
($1 = 72.8000 Indian rupees)