Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have arrested the current deputy editor-in-chief and two former head editors of a Uyghur-run publishing house that released books deemed “problematic” because of improper political content, official sources said.
At least 14 staff members of the Kashgar Publishing House in the XUAR’s Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) city have been arrested since last year, a source with ties to the region recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Those arrested included Ablajan Siyit, the publisher’s current deputy editor-in-chief, Osman Zunun, a former editor-in-chief who retired 10 years ago, and Abliz Omer, another former editor-in-chief who retired 20 years earlier, the source said, adding that they were detained on Oct. 15, “in the beginning of the year,” and “last year,” respectively.
The arrests are part of a “sweeping campaign” in the XUAR since the beginning of 2017 to censor literature based on political content, the source said, with sensitive books being categorized as “dangerous” or “problematic,” and anyone deemed responsible for publishing them targeted for detention.
A staff member at the local office of the judiciary in Kashgar confirmed Siyit’s arrest to RFA during a phone interview, saying that hundreds of books issued by Kashgar Publishing House had been listed as “problematic,” resulting in the arrests of their authors, editors, and those who greenlit their publication.
“The deputy editor-in-chief, Ablajan Siyit, was also taken away … on Oct. 15,” said the staffer, who declined to be named.
“Since last year, the government has been carrying out an investigation into ‘illegal’ published works,” he added.
“More than 600 books published by the Kashgar Publishing House, and more than 1,000 books published by the Xinjiang People’s Publishing House, were found to be problematic. But the Kashgar Publishing House is in more serious trouble as some of the books are considered ‘dangerous.’”
The investigation into “problematic” books began “two years ago,” he said, adding that books can be blacklisted even if they contain only one sentence that is “now restricted in use,” regardless of whether it was at the time of publishing.
According to the staffer, “anyone whose hands have touched these books” has been taken into custody, and that as deputy editor-in-chief of Kashgar Publishing House, Siyit “would have read every book after it was edited.”
The retired former editor-in-chief of the publisher, Osman Zunan, was also taken into custody, he confirmed, but said he had been arrested on the same day as Siyit.
“Abliz Omer, who was the editor-in-chief before Osman Zunun, was also taken away,” the staffer said, adding that the septuagenarian’s “health is very poor.”
“After his arrest, he became very ill. He was released, but two or three days later he was taken back once more. He has been in and out. When he becomes very ill, they send him home, and once his health has improved, they take him back.”
All three men are members of China’s ruling Communist Party, and Siyit is also a member of the party’s local Standing Committee, the staffer said.
It was not immediately clear whether the three had been jailed or sent to a political “re-education camp,” where authorities have detained Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
Several prominent Uyghur intellectuals have gone missing from the XUAR in recent months and are believed detained in re-education camps, and sources in the exile community have said the trend shows that Chinese authorities are “committing cultural genocide by attempting to eliminate the best and brightest Uyghur minds.”
RFA has confirmed the arrests of Qurban Mahmut, the editor-in-chief of the Xinjiang Cultural Journal; Abdurahman Ebey, the head of the Xinjiang People’s Publication House; and the deputy editor-in-chief and three Uyghur directors of the Xinjiang Daily newspaper.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.