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Strange coincidence: Uyghur data leaks on eve of UN Rights Chief visit to Xinjiang

News Agencies | Updated on: 26 May 2022, 10:31 IST
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet

In a strange coincidence to UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet's long-delayed visit to Xinjiang, a new leak of Chinese government records provides confidential documents, including speeches by high-ranking Chinese officials outlining their plans to repress, "educate" and punish Uyghurs -- ethnic minority groups -- in Xinjiang.

This is a significant disclosure as China has faced criticism for its "supression of ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs". It is also crucial to note that the leak comes at a time when Bachelet had been able to "discuss directly" important issues via video with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, without providing further information about her talking points.

The Xinjiang Police Files were obtained by researcher Adrian Zenz, who shared the documents with a group of 14 news organizations, including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

This new leak from Chinese government records shows thousands of never-before-seen mug shots of Uyghurs and other photos from inside the notorious internment camps. It also shows the new details of the national mass detention program.

Meanwhile, in stark contrast, the Chinese Embassy in Iraq said that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in Guangzhou in the meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi congratulated the latter on its important achievements in human rights protection.

Chinese Embassy in Iraq on its Twitter handle wrote, "On May 23, FM Wang Yi met with the visiting #UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in Guangzhou. Bachelet congratulated #China on its important achievements in economic and social development and human rights protection."

Slamming the Embassy over this tweet, the Campaign for Uyghurs -- an organization advocating the rights of the Uyghur people questioned the UN rights chief whether it is in fact true or "just another one of the CCP's lies & manipulative propaganda".

"Michelle Bachelet is this true or is this just another one of the CCP's lies & manipulative propaganda? Please confirm or deny. As a former torture victim yourself, I'm sure that you recognize the faces, eyes & tears from the Xinjiang Police Files," it tweeted.

Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, wrote a peer-reviewed academic paper based on the documents that analyze the leaked data and termed it "stunning" revelation.

"The image material is stunning," Zenz told ICIJ. "It's really fortunate that this material can come out because it would blow away Chinese propaganda attempts" that seek to manipulate the facts.

Zenz said that the material is unprecedented at several levels.

"A huge trove of files obtained by hacking into Xinjiang police/re-education camp computers contain first-ever image material from inside camps, reveal Chen Quanguo issuing shoot-to-kill orders, Xi Jinping demanding new camps because existing ones are overcrowded," said Adrian Zenz, who made a series of tweets.

He attached an image which shows a handcuffed man being taken by police with his face covered.

"The material is unprecedented on several levels: 1. High-level speeches, implicating top leadership and containing blunt language 2. Camp security instructions, far more detailed than China Cables, describe heavily armed strike units with battlefield assault rifles," Adrian Zenz, attaching other picture which has armed security personnel with their guns trained.

According to the researcher and his team, the Xinjiang Police Files contain an encrypted archive with images of several thousand persons taken in the first half of 2018 at police stations and detention centres in Konasheher county, Kashgar prefecture - a region in southern Xinjiang that is predominantly inhabited by the Uyghur people. In 2018, these regions were ordered to photograph a substantial share of the population as part of biometric data collection. Each image filename contains a timestamp and the person's government ID number.

"The files also contain about 450 spreadsheets from the region that corroborate the identity of the depicted persons. They reveal that in 2018, at least 12.1 per cent of all ethnic adults in the country were in detention - including 2,884 of the photographed persons. Among them are 15 minors. The youngest detained person depicted in these images is a 15-year old girl and the oldest is a 73-year old woman," said the team led by Adrian Zenz which analysed and authenticated the material.

"Some of these 2884 persons were probably photographed prior to their detention and others likely during their internment. Since these persons are victims, the full set of 2,884 images is made available on this website in original form".

Adrian Zenz said original filenames have been truncated for privacy reasons so as to not reveal each person's full ID number.

"Vivid image of police drills, and over 5,000 images of persons taken at detention centers/police stations, 2,884 of them are interned. 4. Spreadsheets showing vast scale of internments: over 12 per cent of adult population of Uyghur county in 2018 shown in camps or prisons. You can view and download many of the files, documents and nearly 2,900 images of detained persons from the #XinjiangPoliceFiles website," Adrian Zenz said in tweets.

"The #XinjiangPoliceFiles contain a very large amount of visual material, including police training PowerPoints, image material from Xinjiang, including sensitive material showing police stations, police headquarters etc. This significantly aided in the authentication."

"The #XinjiangPoliceFiles contain for example the entire unredacted Xinjiang Papers document no.5 on history (the leaked Xinjiang Papers contained only a redacted version of this internal document). Images straight from police computers are powerful - especially when they contain so much raw information. Uncropped wide-angle shots show plenty of background, in this case a police officer in SWAT gear, with his baton at the ready," he added.

For its part, China has said these facilities are "vocational skills training centres" that are necessary to "counter" extremism and improve livelihoods. Chinese officials said in late 2019 that most "trainees" had "graduated" from the centres.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recently visited China and Xinjiang.

The US has accused China of genocide in Xinjiang, and an unofficial and independent UK-based tribunal ruled in December 2021 that Beijing is indeed guilty of genocide.

In March 2022, nearly 200 rights groups had demanded that Bachelet's office release its long-postponed report on the rights situation in Xinjiang.


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First published: 26 May 2022, 10:31 IST