IT IS common for tyrants to claim that human rights are an “internal matter” and should not concern outsiders. When faced with complaints that they deny people freedom to speak, protest, worship and vote, these autocrats like to say: Buzz off. That’s how China’s leaders have responded for decades when called out for their abysmal record on human rights. Yet Beijing is increasingly exporting its “internal matters” — the repression of critical or even independent voices — to other countries.
We noted previously how China used a computer attack in March to damage servers in the United States that enabled citizens to bypass the Great Firewall, that massive, smothering blanket imposed by the state on Internet freedom. Researchers in Canada concluded that Beijing has developed an offensive cyberweapon, dubbed “the great cannon,” to take down Web sites outside China to which it objects.
Now we are concerned about how China is attempting to punish the ethnic Uighur journalist Shohret Hoshur of Radio Free Asia by imprisoning his three brothers in China. Mr. Hoshur left China in 1994 after he ran into trouble with the authorities because of his reporting. He has since become a U.S. citizen, and his work has provided an important window on events in the largely Muslim province of Xinjiang, beset in the past few years with a violent conflict that China blames on Uighur separatists. Radio Free Asia is funded annually by the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Mr. Hoshur’s original and courageous reporting irritated the Chinese authorities, and his family in Xinjiang began suffering several years ago. But the intimidation and threats have accelerated in recent months.
One of Mr. Hoshur’s brothers was sentenced to five years in prison last year on charges of violating state security laws. Two other brothers have been detained since August after discussing the trial in a phone conversation with Mr. Hoshur. Now, according to Mr. Hoshur, family members have been told that both detained brothers — who have disappeared into the gulag and not been heard from since — are about to be formally charged with leaking state secrets.
Mr. Hoshur told us this is a worrisome development because it means a prosecutor has approved the charges. These allegations are vague, trumped-up and of the kind often used in political persecutions. Mr. Hoshur says his brothers are farmers and merchants and are not involved in politics. They are being punished simply to hurt Mr. Hoshur.
The Chinese probably assume that they can imprison Mr. Hoshur’s brothers with impunity and simply tell the rest of the world to get lost. We think the United States should declare, loudly and publicly, that such brazen intimidation is reprehensible. The brothers of Mr. Hoshur should be released and the family left alone. When China persecutes a journalist living in the United States, it is no longer an “internal matter.”
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