This Uighur Journalist Is Bravely Fighting a Homegrown Cultural Genocide

Gulchehra Hoja has dedicated her life to protecting her people, who are being tortured for their religion and identity

Jennifer Chowdhury
ZORA
Published in
7 min readAug 15, 2019

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Photo: Mohammad Amir Hamza

InIn November 2017, 23-year-old Amanet Khan (name changed for safety reasons), a Chinese graduate student studying in New York City, knew something was wrong when her father stopped responding to her texts on WeChat, a popular messaging app in China. Gradually, even her mother’s texts slowed down to one-word responses.

“My conversations with my mother got even stranger when I shared with her how much I was enjoying living in New York City, how it was less polluted than China. She said things like, ‘there is no place better in the world than China.’ I knew then that she was really worried about the government tracking our family,” Khan explained.

Uighurs can be arrested under spying and terrorism charges just for contacting relatives and friends living outside of China.

A few weeks later, Khan’s mother told her to delete her two sisters off of WeChat. In June 2018, her last remaining link to her family, her mother, also disappeared off the messaging app.

WeChat was the primary method of communication between Khan and her family who lives in Xianjing, home to the ethnic Uighurs — China’s Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic minority. Officially known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, every move that the more than 13 million Uighurs living here make is meticulously monitored by the government. They must swipe their IDs at checkpoints to get from point A to point B, their homes can be searched at any time, and they must install software on their phones that allows the government to monitor their activity.

Any anti-government action or conversation is grounds for arrest. The Human Rights Watch estimates a million Uighurs have been detained in a massive network of internment camps. Uighurs can also be arrested under spying and terrorism charges just for contacting relatives and friends living outside of China. And those that travel outside of the country for work or education themselves are often arrested

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