Why Xinjiang leak reveals the extent of Chinese abuses in Uighur camps
A leak of thousands of photos and official documents from China’s Xinjiang province has shed new light on the extent of abuses, including mass internment, targeting the Uighur and other Muslim minorities, according to media reports.
The files, obtained by academic Adrian Zenz, were published as UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet begins a long-awaited and controversial trip to Xinjiang. Rights groups have accused Beijing of crimes against humanity for its treatment of the majority-Muslim Uighurs.
Activists have said Chinese authorities have detained more than one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in a network of detention centers and prisons in the region, which Beijing has defended as vocational education and training centers.
But the trove of police photographs and internal documents sent to Zenz by an anonymous source who hacked into official databases in Xinjiang adds to evidence that the mass interments were far from voluntary, with leaked documents showing top leaders in Beijing including President Xi Jinping calling for a forceful crackdown.
The files include a 2017 internal speech by Chen Quanguo, a former Communist Party secretary in Xinjiang, in which he allegedly ordered guards to shoot to kill anyone who tries to escape, and called for officials in the region to exercise firm control over religious believers.
In a 2018 internal speech, public security minister Zhao Kezhi mentioned direct orders from Xi to increase the capacity of detention facilities.
After initially denying their existence, Beijing has claimed the facilities are vocational training schools, attended voluntarily, and aimed at stamping out what it calls religious extremism.
But the leaked documents provided an insight into how leaders saw the minority population as a security threat, with Zhao warning that more than two million people in southern Xinjiang alone had been severely influenced by the infiltration of extremist religious thought.
More than 2,800 police photos of Xinjiang detainees included minors such as 17-year-old Zeytunigul Ablehet, detained for listening to an illegal speech, and 16-year-old Bilal Qasim, apparently sentenced for being related to other detainees.
The details echoed a separate police list leaked earlier to AFP that showed the government crackdown snaring hundreds of people at a time from villages, often many from the same household.
The sort of paranoid threat perception comes out in these files, and the internal justification for why one has to move against an entire population said Zenz in video comments published alongside the leaked files.
Zenz works for the US-based non-profit organization the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
The files, parts of which have been verified by multiple news organizations including the BBC and Le Monde, also provided a window into life in detention facilities.
Photos appeared to show officers restraining hooded and shackled inmates with batons, while other guards wearing camouflage stood by with firearms.
The United States voiced horror on Tuesday at the new files and said they showed that abuse was likely approved at the highest levels in Beijing.
We are appalled by the reports and the jarring images, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
It would be very difficult to imagine that a systemic effort to suppress, to detain, to conduct a campaign of genocide and crimes against humanity would not have the blessing would not have the approval of the highest levels of the PRC government, he said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
We have and we continue to call on the PRC to immediately release all those arbitrarily detained people, to abolish the internment camps, to end mass detention, torture, forced sterilization, and the use of forced labor, Price said.
Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called the details of the newly leaked documents shocking and urged China to grant Bachelet full and unfettered access to the region so that she can conduct a thorough assessment of the facts on the ground.
Germany also called for a transparent investigation into the shocking allegations. In a phone call with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pointed to the shocking reports and new evidence of very serious human rights violations in Xinjiang, said a German foreign ministry statement.
Baerbock called for a transparent investigation into the allegations, the statement added.
But China’s foreign ministry dismissed the leaked documents as cobbled-together material by anti-China forces smearing Xinjiang, with spokesman Wang Wenbin accusing the media of spreading lies and rumors.
Also, China’s ambassador to the UK, Zheng Zeguang, tweeted, Such a shame for BBC to carry the fabricated story about so-called ‘detention camps’. Pathetic for the media, in cahoots with the notorious rumor monger, to once again spread disinformation about Xinjiang.