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Uyghur journalist living in exile in America says her family is being targeted in China

but that's only made her more determined

Gulchehra Hoja. One Free Press Coalition

A Chinese journalist who lives in exile in the US says she was told not to return and that her family was targeted and imprisoned because of her work.

Gulchehra Hoja grew up in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, and started working for the state-run China Central Television after university.

Hoja moved to the US to work for Radio Free Asia, a US government-funded news outlet. She was then sent a "red notice" from China, which barred her from returning home, according to the One Free Press Coalition.

Hoja is a member of the Uyghur minority, a mostly-Muslim community largely based in in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. Many Uyghurs refer to it as East Turkestan.

China has detained at least a million Uyghurs in prisons and detention camps, with many forced to labor in factories for little to no pay and placed under heavy surveillance.

China euphemistically calls the sites "reeducation camps," and denies widespread reports of human-rights abuses there.

Hoja now works in Washington, DC, where she covers those camps and the treatment of Uyghurs.

Her family appears to be paying the price. Hoja said that around 20 of her own relatives, including her parents and her brother, were seized by security forces, with some of them put in the camps.

Her father, the director of the Xinjiang Museum's archaeological research department, was also forced to retire, she said.

She told Deutsche Welle in 2018: "We don't know where exactly the authorities have taken my parents and relatives and what their present condition is."

She is publicly critical of China, and wrote earlier this year that she would boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Hoja told Slate she was inspired to leave China in 2001 on a trip to Europe, at which point she went to Radio Free Asia to ask for a job. She then moved to the US to work for the outlet, and shortly afterward China sent her a red notice, accusing her of being a "separatist," she said.

"I don't regret it. If I had 100 times to have the decision, I will choose the same, because freedom is everything," she told Slate.

She said her mother, who has now been released, has to tell local police before taking her calls, and that they can't talk about any "sensitive" subjects.

But she said her parents have told her they are proud of her.

Hoja told the Financial Times that covering the treatment of Uyghurs while her own family was being targeted was difficult, but it made her more determined to tell those stories: "Becoming the target of an authoritarian regime that took my whole extended family into detention caused me overwhelming grief."

"But it also changed me: The loss of everything means I am even more determined to stand up against this brutal oppression."

Radio Free Asia is one of very few non-Chinese outlets that still have a presence in Xinjiang, and its reporting has been cited by multiple international news outlets, including Insider.

Hoja won the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in 2020.

She said after she won: "If you are a female journalist exposing the crimes of an authoritarian state in China, you will definitely pay an incredibly high price for your work."


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