‘My Sister Was Forced to Denounce Me’
Abduweli Ayup spent 15 months in jail in 2013 for writing about the plight of his community: the Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang Autonomous Region. He fled – first to Turkey and then Norway – and continued to report on the mass incarceration of his people for Radio Free Asia’s Uighur language service. Radio Free Asia is a sister news organization to Voice of America under the U.S. Agency for Government Media.
Bergen, Norway After arriving in Turkey, I continued to write on social media about Uighur oppression in China. From 2017, Uighurs around the world started to send me news tips that I would send to journalists at Western media organizations. I was a bridge between Uighur witnesses and journalists.
Journalists who've reported on repressive regimes sometimes have no choice but to flee for their safety. But exile is no shield for loved ones back home. The threat of family reprisals puts journalists in a fraught corner. Here, they tell their stories:
Press Freedom Editor
In late 2017, I became a stringer for Radio Free Asia’s Uighur service. Around that time, I learned that Chinese authorities had detained my brother Erkin Ayup, who was a cadre in the Communist Party Committee Organization Department in Konasheher county, southern Xinjiang. They also detained my sister, Sajidigul Ayup, who was a middle school geography teacher in Konasheher.
From China to Norway
When a college classmate from China visited me in Turkey in 2018, they described how my sister was forced to denounce me as a separatist at government-organized gatherings at her school. But even doing that didn’t stop her from being detained.
I tried calling the places where my siblings worked, but the response I received was frustrating and inhumane. The people who answered denied knowing my family or that they had worked at those companies.
Until this day, I have had no news of my brother and sister. China claimed it released all detainees from concentration camps in 2019, but I know my siblings were not released.
It pains me greatly that they are in Chinese concentration camps as punishment for my activities abroad. It shows blatantly how China is not – as it claims to be – a country governed by the rule of law.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.