- China has long denied its mass surveillance and prison-camp detention of the Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.
- But a series of classified government documents, leaked to The New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists this month, has knocked down this line of defence.
- We now have solid proof of the Uighur oppression from within the Communist Party.
- The leaks are devastating and extraordinary, but China likely doesn’t care. It has brushed off the documents by calling them fake news, and continued to defend its actions in the region.
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China has lost its ability to deny its mass oppression of the Uighur Muslims, thanks to a series of devastating leaked cables detailing the crackdown from within the Communist Party.
The country has for years denied oppressing the Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim ethnic minority in western China, with intrusive surveillance and mass detentions. China sees Uighurs’ religion as a threat, and is operating a counterterrorism campaign in their home region of Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan.
Leaked internal government documents detailing the crackdown, published by The New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) this month, have confirmed the coordinated campaign against the populace.
The classified documents published by The New York Times include instructions on how to tell Uighur students that their parents had been detained for their religion, speeches by President Xi Jinping on the need for a crackdown on Uighurs, and a threat to punish party officials who don’t follow instructions.
The cables published by the ICIJ describe the tight security controls in the prison camps and the multitude of reasons for which Uighurs can be detained – from using a file-sharing app to exhibiting Muslim markers, such as telling colleagues to pray and stay away from porn.
China claims the leaks are fake news – but this line of defence isn’t working
It has used this line of defence multiple times before in response to previous reports of the Xinjiang crackdown as told by relatives, former detainees and experts on the region.
But the strategy of dismissing evidence of the Uighur oppression as fake news doesn’t work anymore because the leaked documents are solid proof of the crackdown, especially given the documents originated from within the Communist Party.
The Times’ documents were sent by “a member of the Chinese political establishment,” whose identity is not known to the public but is to the newspaper.
The origin of the ICIJ cables is less clear – the network says it received them “via a chain of exiled Uighurs” – but they all contain stamps and letterheads of Chinese authorities.
The ICIJ also said it vetted the cables with several linguists and Xinjiang researchers, and corroborated the contents with former Xinjiang detainees.
Adrian Zenz, one of the researchers that vetted the ICIJ’s cables, wrote in a Times op-ed: “No more denying, no more dodging. The Chinese Communist Party can no longer hide its relentless campaign of mass internment against the ethnic minorities in … Xinjiang, or claim that the effort is an innocuous educational program.”
“For all its efforts at secrecy, the Chinese government can no longer hide the extent, and the reach, of its campaign of repression in Xinjiang,” he added.
The leaks are devastating, but China likely doesn’t care
The leaks are devastating and extraordinary, particularly since they come from a regime as secretive and tightly-controlled as the Chinese Communist Party.
Even so, it seems extremely unlikely that the Chinese government will retreat on Xinjiang in favour of a better image abroad.
Though Chinese officials have brushed off both leaks as fabrications and attempted smears by Western countries, they have also defended the country’s tactics in the region.
Spokesmen for the country have continued to boast of the lack of terrorist incidents in Xinjiang and an improvement in the region’s economy, and to claim the camps simply offer “free vocational training.”
China has used this defence for years.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman even said last week, in response to the Times report, that the country’s tactics in Xinjiang were “worth learning from.”
The party official who leaked the internal documents to The Times “expressed hope that their disclosure would prevent party leaders, including Mr. Xi, from escaping culpability for the mass detentions,” the newspaper said.
But as China continues to go without sufficient, tangible pushback or punishment for its actions by foreign powers, it seems likely that the oppression of Uighurs will not stop any time soon.
- Read more:
- Maps show 500 suspected ‘re-education’ camps and prisons where China is locking up and torturing its Muslim minority
- From growing a beard to complaining about porn: Here are the flimsy excuses China uses to throw Uighur Muslims into prison camps
- This man’s family vanished in China’s most oppressed region. The next time he saw his son was 2 years later, in a Chinese propaganda video.
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