RFA’s Uyghur Service

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 August 2011 05:42 Written by augustins Tuesday, 19 July 2011 05:09

A screen shot of RFA's Uyghur Service website, 2011.


Thank you for visiting RFA’s 15th Anniversary site. This month we’re featuring RFA’s Uyghur Service.

Please scroll down to explore the unique features of RFA Uyghur including fast facts, photos, history, special programming, listener comments, the media environment, and awards won by RFA Uyghur journalists.

You can also view major news events and story highlights of the past 12 years.

Fast Facts

First Broadcast: December 14, 1998.

Languages: Uyghur.

Coverage: 2 hours of programming per day, 7 days a week.

Distribution: Radio, Internet and satellite. RFA Uyghur can be heard on five diversified shortwave frequencies. The website features Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic scripts: http://www.rfa.org/uyghur/.

English Language Website: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China.

Target Area: The target of the RFA Uyghur Service is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China which is inhabited by more than 10 million Uyghurs. This vast area comprises about one sixth of China’s territory; it is now the largest Autonomous Region of China.

The Uyghur region is bordered on the east by China’s Gansu and Qinghai provinces and on the south by Tibet. The region also shares borders with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The Uyghurs and their forerunners are Turkic-speaking people who have been living in Central Asia since the first millennium BC. Their ancestors can be traced to the people who lived along the ancient Silk Road.

Click here for an interactive look at the language, culture, and history of the Uyghur people.

Programming: The only independent news agency providing news and information to the target area, RFA Uyghur programming includes breaking news, analysis, in-depth reporting, interviews, and feature stories on politics, the economy, culture, history, and education. In addition to news, RFA Uyghur includes programming devoted to economic and political commentary; Uyghur history, arts, literature, and culture; expert discussions on the relationship between China and Central Asia; human rights; the environment; women’s issues; exile Uyghurs and culture outside the region; Turkic language and education; and health awareness.


RFA Uyghur began as a half-hour, twice weekly radio broadcast on December 14, 1998. RFA subsequently increased those broadcasts to one hour daily, and then to two hours daily since October 1, 2001.

Soon after the first broadcast, RFA Uyghur attracted the attention of Chinese government officials, who regarded it with apprehension. The official Urumqi Xinjiang People’s Radio broadcast said: “Establishing a strong radio and television system in Xinjiang and erecting a steel wall against radio wave infiltration are very important and pressing political tasks … Infiltration by hostile radio stations from abroad into our region has lately become more serious.”

In its editorial content, the Uyghur Service focused on international conferences, democratic elections, tensions between Taiwan and China, commentaries on the lives of Uyghur people in China and elsewhere, and AIDS education. Just in its first year of broadcasting, the Uyghur Service received letters and telephone calls from listeners within the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and from the Chinese cities of Urumqi, Kashgar, Hotan, Aksu, Yerkent, Korla, and Ili.

Media Environment in China and The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Freedom House Freedom of the Press Ranking: Not Free (181st/196 countries ranked in 2010)
Committee to Protect Journalists Report on Number of Journalists Imprisoned: 34

The July 9, 2009 riot in Xinjiang. Photo: RFA.

Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Barometer 2011 calls China “the world’s biggest prison for journalists, bloggers, and cyber-dissidents.” Most of the around 100 prisoners have been sentenced to long jail sentences for “subversion” or “divulging state secrets” and are held in harsh conditions, with journalists often being put to forced labor. The local authorities, fearful of bad publicity from reports on corruption and nepotism, continue to arrest journalists. There are 76 imprisoned netizens.
Excerpt from Human Rights Watch’s 2011 World Report: “The government continued to restrict the rights and freedoms of journalists, bloggers and an estimated 384 million Internet users, in violation of domestic legal guarantees of freedom of press and expression. The government requires state media and Internet search firms to censor references to issues ranging from the June 1989 Tiananmen massacre to details of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.”

World Uyghur Congress President Rebiya Kadeer presented RFA’s Uyghur service and RFA’s senior management with “Special Recognition” awards on January 14, 2008, at RFA. Photo: RFA.

RFA Uyghur is the only independent broadcaster providing local news and information to the target area. The service provides a forum for a variety of opinions and voices within the XUAR; it is also provides information to Uyghurs who are deprived of access to free news media with objectivity, fairness, quality, and integrity.

Uyghurs have faced extreme repression from the Chinese government since the People’s Republic of China took control of Uyghur territory. In recent years, especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Beijing has stepped up its control over Uyghurs, using the global “War on Terror” to justify harsh crackdowns on religious practice, and political and social dissent.

Chinese authorities enforced a complete media control, shutting down the Internet and telephone lines in Urumqi and the region after the July 2009 riots in Urumqi, the capital of China’s northwest Xinjiang province. RFA reported on the violence and its aftermath extensively. Months after the ethnic clashes, Uyghurs living in Central Asia, North America, and Europe reported to RFA that they were unable to phone, text, or e-mail relatives in the XUAR. Despite these challenges, RFA continues to provide solid eyewitness coverage of events happening within the region. RFA’s reports have been cited by major international news sources including The Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Daily Telegraph, and South China Morning Post, among others. In addition, people living in the region have contacted RFA not only to provide critical information, but also to commend our staff for breaking through the communications blackout.

As one retired male listener said when he called RFA’s Uyghur Service: “There is no freedom of speech in China. Only RFA is giving this kind of chance to us [and] we should allow different voices.”

Service Highlights

Rebiya Kadeer interviewed at RFA by Dolkun Kamberi, RFA Uyghur Service Director, in October 2007.

Since its first broadcast over 12 years ago, Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service has been successfully breaking stories and providing thorough coverage of news and information important to China’s minority Turkic-speaking Uyghur population. In the process, the Uyghur Service has built up an extensive network of Uyghur contacts in China’s more remote regions as well as among key leaders of the Uyghur exile community including Rebiya Kadeer.

The service’s consistently high-quality journalism and the fact that it is the only international news regularly covering the XUAR has helped to build a strong listenership among the Uyghur people in China and garnered numerous awards and honors, including the Edward R. Murrow and Gracie awards.

RFA Uyghur broke the news of the Shaoguan (in China’s Guangdong province) factory riot in late June 2009 that led to the unrest in Urumqi, which began on July 5. The Uyghur Service also broke the news of the detainment of Beijing-based economics professor and blogger, Ilham Tohti, an ethnic Uyghur, days after riots began in China’s northwest region. RFA’s coverage of the events, which included eye-witness photographs and accounts from listeners, of the recent unrest has been widely cited by numerous news sources.

Web Highlights

An early screen shot of the the Uyghur Service website in 2005.

RFA’s Uyghur Service website, launched in September 2004, provides continuously updated news in all three Uyghur writing systems — Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic. RFA also maintains an English language website featuring a selection of stories from the Uyghur Service. The site streams the daily RFA broadcast in Uyghur and offers ongoing coverage of events in the Uyghur region in text and images. The archived audio files can be retrieved on a special page or downloaded via podcast. RSS feeds are also available, making it possible for people to automatically update their news readers or webpages with RFA news content.

RFA continues to be confronted with the jamming of broadcasts and blocking of its website. Audience research conducted in the last decade shows that jamming is the main tool used to prevent Uyghur people from accessing RFA, whether on air or online. Despite Chinese censorship and the dangers involved, research indicates that Uyghur listeners and Web users consider RFA a lifeline in a hostile media environment — a source for information and news offering unique content worth taking risks to access. Some Uyghur social websites enable RFA Uyghur’s content to reach audiences by republishing the service’s stories on their sites with a few “forbidden” terms altered to avoid detection by China’s online censors.

Listener Comments

“RFA broadcasts, like an educator, have brightened our heart. … They have opened our eyes. China always wants to keep the Uyghurs ignorant of the world. But now we understand democracy, human rights, and freedom. RFA broadcasting means more than food, drink, and air to us, because it gives us hope and inspiration. We hope RFA increases broadcasting time in the Uyghur language.” – RFA Uyghur service listener

“Today RFA has turned into an organization that reveals the troubles and the plight of the Uyghurs to the world. The Chinese sources in Eastern Turkestan on the other hand are trying to conceal the injustices. … It is not possible to compare RFA with the media sources under Chinese control. … RFA broadcasts the truth while the Chinese media broadcasts lies.” – Male listener, 27, Urumqi

“If the government had given any explanation about [the] Shaoguan incident without hiding it from Uyghurs, this would not have happened in Urumqi. People heard more details about it through RFA, since the listenership is among Uyghurs.” – Uyghur business owner, Urumqi, July 2009

Click here to see more listener comments.


RFA Senior Web Editor Enver Kadir accepts a 2010 Gracie award for the RFA Web team’s winning production on Uyghur women entitled “Half the Xinjiang Sky”.

In February 2010, RFA won the American Women in Radio and Television Gracie Award for its multimedia feature titled “Half the Xinjiang Sky” in the category of Outstanding Website – News. The multimedia Web page showcases RFA’s extensive coverage of the protests led by Uyghur women following the Uyghur-Han ethnic riots and crackdown led by Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang and Guangdong provinces.

In 2009, New York Festivals broadcasting competition honored an RFA Uyghur broadcaster with a gold medal in the category of Best Human Interest Story for an exclusive piece aired the previous year about an ethnic Uyghur woman in China facing a forced, third-term abortion. International pressure resulting from the story led to authorities releasing the woman, who was able to give birth to a son.

In 2008, Rebiya Kadeer presented an award to the RFA Uyghur service for its great contribution to the Uyghur communities, telling RFA staff their broadcasts “gives hope and confidence to our people…hope for a better future because of the powerful message,” adding, “They are not afraid of going to prison in order to listen to your daily programs.”

In 2005, The Uyghur service’s website won the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award, sponsored by The Radio-Television News Directors Association.

Major News Events Covered By RFA Uyghur
The Uyghur Service broadcasts many breaking stories that go unreported by China’s state-run media and in foreign media. Here are some story highlights:

A screen grab from the CCTV documentary "The July 5 Riot from Start to Finish" shows Gulmire Imin, sentenced to life in prison, wearing prison attire.


Clashes in Silk Road Town

Show of Unity on Anniversary

Uyghurs Face Travel Ban

Kazakhstan Deports Uyghur Teacher

Uyghurs Push Self-Determination


Xinjiang Bans Separatist Talk

Uyghur Held in Leak Case

More Uyghur Homes Demolished

Uyghur Evictee Detained

Uyghur Web Moderators Get Life


Uyghurs Rally for Sick Child

Ethnic Tensions in Xinjiang’s Internet Cafes

Uyghur Charged With Spying

Armed Mobs Throng Urumqi

China Detains Reporters in Urumqi

More Xinjiang Death Sentences

RFA broke the news of the factory riot that led to the unrest in Urumqi, beginning on July 5, 2009 which left 156 dead and many injured. This RFA YouTube video explores the aftermath of the riots:


A Chinese policeman watches ethnic Uyhgurs in Kashgar on August 7, 2008. Photo: AFP.

Uyghurs Protest in China’s Remote Xinjiang Region

Chinese Police Raid Houses in Xinjiang

Uyghur Web Site Shut Down

Uyghurs Killed in Raid

China Detains Uyghurs Amid Attacks

Crackdown on Xinjiang Mosques, Religion

Uyghur Woman Released, Without Forced Abortion

Uyghur Students ‘Beaten by Police’

Ethnic Uyghur Abdusattar Ghoja Abdulla won what is billed as the world's first high wire championship in Seoul, South Korea in 2007. Photo: RFA.


Uyghur Skywalker Plans Two-Mile Sea Crossing

Uyghur Wire-Walker Breaks World Record

China Confiscates Muslims Passports

Uyghur Girls Forced Into Labor Far From Home By Local Chinese Officials

A Uyghur musician records traditional music at RFA for on-air use in 2006. Photo: RFA.



China Moves Farmers as Tarim River Waters Dwindle

Rebiya Kadeer Aims To Help Uyghur People from Exile

Growing Heroin Trade Hits Uyghurs in Chinas Northwest

Guantanamo Uyghurs Find Freedom Like a Celebration

What is Love? An Essay by Jailed Uyghur Writer Nurmuhemmet Yasin

Uyghur Dissidents Sons Detained, Beaten in Front of Own Children


Rebiya Kadeer is interviewed by RFA after being released in 2005. Photo: RFA.

Uyghurs Say Quake, Tent Shortage Has Forced Them To Live Outdoors

China Frees Rebiya Kadeer

Analysis: Rebiya Kadeers Release Part of Chinas Hostage Diplomacy

Rights Report Slams Chinas Treatment of Uyghurs

Trafficked Uyghur Children May Not See Home Again

Uyghur Youths, Teacher Detained After School Brawl, Residents Say

Guantanamo Uyghurs Plight Affects Family

Xinjiang Children Forced To Work in Cotton Fields

Students step out of their classroom walking past a portrait with teachings of the late Chairman Mao at a bilingual middle school for ethnic Uyghur Muslim and Han Chinese students in Hotan, China on October 13, 2006, in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Photo: AFP.


China Imposes Chinese Language on Uyghur Schools

Man Dies as Chinese Government Razes Uyghur Homes

Chinese Government Takes Uyghur Farmers’ Land Illegally

Police in Xinjiang Detain Protesters

Rights Group Slams Chinas Execution of Uyghur Man

Uyghur Children Fall Prey to Drug Addiction

China Jails Uyghur Journalist For “Separatism”

Uyghur Woman Held in China Wins Rafto Human Rights Prize

China Steps Up Religious Controls Over Muslim Uyghurs

Chinas Muslim Uyghurs See Sharp Rise in AIDS Infections

A Uyghur man warms himself in front of a stove fire after spending a second night sleeping in the open. A massive earthquake devastated the Chongqurchaq area bordering Kyrgyzstan in February 2003. File photo: AFP.


China Releases Terror Blacklist of Uyghurs

U.S. urged not to send Uyghur detainees back to China

Death Toll Rising Fast in Xinjiang Quake


Suspicious Fire Rzes Uyghur Market In Kyrgyzstan

Uyghur Separatist Denies Links to Taliban, Al-Qaeda

Chinese Authorities Burn Thousands Of Uyghur Books


This year, Radio Free Asia celebrates 15 years of bringing objective, accurate, and timely news to people in Asian countries that restrict free speech and free media.
While much has changed at RFA since we began in 1996, our mission has remained the same: to advance the principles of the fundamental right to the free-flow of information and the right to seek, receive, and impart information.
Please take a moment to explore this webpage where you can revisit important milestones, accomplishments, and moments from RFA’s early days to the present.
—Libby Liu, President of RFA

BBG resolution

On December 17, 2010 the Broadcasting Board of Governors passed this resolution celebrating and commemorating RFA's 15 years of impact broadcasting.

Click here to read the resolution (PDF)

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