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A Diabolical Bind

Gulchehra Hoja (Photo courtesy of Radio Free Asia)

Gulchehra Hoja is a Uyghur-American journalist, working at Radio Free Asia. We have a piece about her on the homepage today, here. She is a warm and very brave lady. She and her colleagues at RFA report the truth about what the Chinese government is doing to the Uyghur people. The government then retaliates against their families.

The bind that these reporters are in is diabolical.

Back in China — in Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan — Gulchehra Hoja was a media star. She was on Uyghur-language television and Chinese television, more broadly. She was in commercials, videos, and movies. But in 2001, something fateful happened: She took a trip to Europe. She spent a lot of time indoors, staring at a relatively new thing, namely the Internet. This was not possible in China.

I’m reminded of Chinese people who go to Taiwan — to Taipei, usually — for vacation. Many of them stay in their hotel rooms at night. They are watching television, fascinated by the political debate, amazed at what can happen in a free and open society.

In Vienna, those 20 years ago, Gulchehra Hoja offered her services to Radio Free Asia.

Flash forward to 2018. On January 28, Hoja published an interview with a survivor of the camps — the concentration camps that the Chinese government has set up in the northwest of the country. The man’s name was Omurbek Eli. It was the first such interview ever published — an interview with an escapee or survivor.

On the night of January 31, the government arrested a full 25 of Hoja’s relatives, including her mother. Some of the relatives, Hoja has never even met: They were born after her defection.

Under other circumstances, her mother would have wanted to die in the camps, rather than eat the foul, noxious food. But she ate it, in order to survive. Once released, she gave the reason: She did not want her daughter to blame herself, if she died.

She and her daughter were able to have a phone call. And mother said to daughter something both admiring and almost funny: “You must be doing a good job, because you have made them very angry.”

At Radio Free Asia, there are 15 Uyghurs, or Uyghur Americans. Eight of them currently have family in the camps. The Chinese government is trying to shut them up. It’s not working.

Again, my piece on Gulchehra Hoja is here. For a Q&A podcast with her, go here. She and her colleagues fight off despair and other emotions. They know they are providing a voice for the voiceless. They are doing everything they can to counter a barrage of lies, coming from the dictatorship in Beijing.

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