Gulchehra Hoja, who is a Washington-Baltimore News Guild member in the Uygher Service at Radio Free Asia, spoke to her parents on Jan. 31.
The next day, her parents and 18 other relatives were jailed by the Chinese police.
“They were all arrested. It was very scary,” said Hoja’s husband, Arslan Khakiyev, who also works in the Uygher Service.
Retaliation is a common threat to the workers at RFA, which is a federally funded nonprofit news service that broadcasts independent news to nine Asian nations. Some countries, including China, strictly curtail press freedom. China recently cracked down on the family members of RFA workers.
One worker in the Mandarin Service said, “When we do our jobs, we are fearless, but when we go home… when we go through customs… we do have fear.”
All RFA workers know of journalists who traveled home only to be arrested hours after arriving, as if the police knew their itineraries. That happens even though RFA journalists use pseudonyms to help protect themselves and family members.
Not all of RFA workers can go home, though. For instance, the Uygher staff cannot go to the Xinjiang Uygher Autonomous Region of China.
The family of reporter Jung Young of RFA’s Korean Service were arrested in 2009 and reportedly taken to a political prison camp. His wife’s family was arrested and taken to the same place in 2015.
For Hoja, last weekend brought some relief. She was able to speak to both of her parents. Her mother was released from what they call a “re-education camp,” and her father is in a hospital. Hoja can’t relax yet, though. Her brother, aunt and cousins remain in the camps.