In September 2018, Azad Essa, a South African journalist wrote an article "discussing the persecution of more than 1 million Uighur Muslims in China's Xinjiang Province" for South African Independent Media's IOL newspaper. It was a damaging exposé and it ruffled feathers. According to Essa, the article discussed the inability of African leaders to question China on the discrimination suffered by the Turkic-Muslim community. The article had come after the China-Africa forum in Beijing and was raising all the right questions. The article was published in the print newspaper but that was to be his last contribution. His column was then canceled due to a "redesign of the paper" and the article in question was not published online. He says he expected a reaction but nothing as severe and drastic as what he got.
The article reported on the Chinese treatment of the Muslim minority with at least a million Uighurs sent to internment camps, "treated as though they suffer from a mental illness". In the camps, they are force-fed with Communist Party propaganda and if they do not submit, are deprived of sleep, put into solitary confinement and physically attacked. Essa exposed the State-sanctioned torture hidden in plain sight for a long time and he got a swift reaction.
Twenty percent of Independent Media is now held by two Chinese firms. To put it in context, the company is the second largest media company in South Africa and a fifth of it is Chinese owned. This gives the firms immense decision-making power in the company with the effect of becoming China's "most ardent cheerleader". True to expectations, Essa was shown to the door in a dramatic fashion. There were no apologies or explanations given apart from some impending "redesigning". Chinese forays into African media have become more apparent as its propaganda machinery pushes a less odious picture of the country to counter Western demonisation. Africa finds itself a pawn in a game of thrones yet again, and Azad Essa can bear testimony of the fact.
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