Chinese Authorities Confirm the Photojournalist Lu Guang, Who Vanished in Xinjiang Amid a Crackdown on Minorities, Is Under Arrest

The award-winning photographer was visiting a remote region where the Chinese government has detained thousands in a crackdown on Muslim minorities.

Photographer Lu Guang. Image courtesy of World Press Photo.

The award-winning Chinese photojournalist who has been missing since early November is under arrest, Chinese authorities have finally confirmed without disclosing why he is being held. Lu Guang, who is based in New York, was visiting Xinjiang, a far western region of China where the Beijing government is cracking down on Muslim minorities.

The respected photographer is best known for his work documenting sensitive topics, including poverty and pollution in China, and had been visiting the region at the invitation of local photographers when he vanished on November 3. His disappearance has sparked international protest and concern.

Lu Guang’s wife, Xu Xiaoli, announced via Twitter last Tuesday, December 11, that Chinese authorities had officially confirmed his arrest. Police contacted his family in China and informed them of his arrest in Kashgar, a city in Xinjiang, which is at the center of the government clampdown on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities.

Xu tweeted: “Family members have already entrusted lawyers to contact the case-handling authorities, and they have not been allowed to meet with Lu Guang, nor have they obtained any formal written procedures.”

It is unclear why Lu was detained. Xu told the New York Times that her husband’s family was not told what he was charged with, or provided with written documentation about his arrest. He was taken by state security, a branch of the Chinese police force that works to combat anti-government activity. A photographer acquaintance of Lu’s was also arrested and is not reachable either. “I don’t have any further news about the friend who had invited Lu Guang, who was also taken away by state security,” Xu wrote on Twitter.

Indian Muslims in Mumbai protest the Chinese government’s detention of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Photo by Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images.

In an earlier interview with the Times, Xu said that she did not think her husband was documenting the repression of Muslims in Xinjiang, where authorities keep a close watch on anyone approaching detention camps designed to “re-educate” hundreds of thousands of Muslims, forcing some to learn Mandarin. China is facing growing international criticism of its mass detention of Uyghurs and other minorities. After long denying their existence, Beijing has begun to acknowledge it runs the camps, justifying them on the grounds of anti-terrorism.

The 57-year-old photographer began taking photographs when he was working in a factory in China in the 1980s, and he has since won the World Press Photo Award three times for his images documenting the darker side of China’s rapid economic development. Series include stark images of drug addiction, life in polluted mining towns, and the fate of poor Chinese villagers who contracted HIV after selling their own blood to survive.

“He told me that he was just touring to take a look, because he hadn’t been there before, as far as I know,” Xu said. “He was going to show his work to photography lovers and offer commentary on them.”

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