14 seconds of undercover footage reveals the shadowy, sinister reality of China's 21st-century police state

T. Wang / VICE News TonightEight Uighur men march, in total silence, toward a police station in Hotan, Xinjiang. This clip is featured in VICE News Tonight’s documentary, ‘They Come For us at Night: China’s Vanishing Muslims.’
  • Xinjiang, a frontier region in China’s west, is the most oppressed area in China.
  • Authorities in the region are spying on and arbitrarily arresting people from the Muslim Uighur minority population and, in many cases, torturing and detaining them in prison-like camps.
  • VICE News published eerie undercover footage of eight Uighur men being marched down to a local police station. Its documentary on Xinjiang publishes Thursday night.
  • Watch the clip below.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Eight young men, wearing dark clothing, are marching in complete silence down a busy city street.

They are striding almost in unison toward a police station, where they will likely face hours of intense questioning and risk being sent away to what’s called a “re-education camp.” People who get sent there are locked away, with no idea of when they might get out.

This is the scene in VICE News’s new documentary on the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, the most oppressed in the country. This particular scene – which takes up 14 chilling seconds in the 30-minute documentary – was taken by two undercover reporters around 12:30 a.m. in Kashgar, a major city and tourist attraction in western Xinjiang.

The men were marched for around four minutes, according to VICE News. Watch a clip of the moment below.

We know the danger that the men in the video face not because we know their names, or can see their faces, but because they are Uighurs – the majority-Muslim ethnic minority currently under unprecedented scrutiny and surveillance by the Chinese government.

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Isobel Yeung, the VICE News correspondent who posed as a travel blogger to capture the video, tweeted that visiting Xinjiang was the “hardest, most harrowing story” she has ever worked on.

XinjiangKevin Frayer/Getty ImagesA Uighur woman holds her child in Kashgar, Xinjiang, in June 2017. Many residents in the region now live in fear of being arrested and detained.

Though Beijing has cracked down on Uighur activity since 2009, when a series of ethnic riots took place across the country, it only recently started ramping up its high-tech surveillance operation, and handing out sterner punishments to the people.

This 21st-century police state involves installing close to one million facial recognition cameras across the region, making Uighurs download spyware on their phones, and holding at least one million Uighurs in prison-like detention centres.

Former detainees have described having to sing patriotic songs in order to get food, and being both physically and mentally tortured.

Read more:
What it’s like inside the internment camps China uses to oppress its Muslim minority, according to people who’ve been there

Beijing characterises all Uighurs as terrorists, and has routinely tried to stoke Islamophobia and cite national security concerns to justify its actions in the region.

Authorities have imposed a variety of oppressive laws in the region, including asking tech companies to block and report the transfer of any content that might seem unsavoury to the regime.

It has also been reported that authorities have arrested people for refusing to drink alcohol or setting their watch two hours behind Beijing Standard Time to adhere to natural daylight hours in Xinjiang.

Read more:
China uses an intrusive surveillance app to track its Muslim minority, with technology that could be exported to the rest of the world. Here’s how it works.

Uighurs – who refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan – believe that China is trying to eradicate their culture. Beijing says it is unifying the Chinese nation.

Authorities in the region have also started detaining Uighurs even if they haven’t committed a crime. They say it’s to prevent them from doing so.

Zhang Zhisheng, a top official at the Xinjiang Foreign Affairs Office, told the BBC in a recent interview: “Some people, before they commit murder, already show they’re capable of killing. Should we wait for them to commit the crime? Or should we prevent it from happening?”

Xinjiang protesterOZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty ImagesA protester wears a mask painted with the colours of the flag of Xinjiang, or East Turkestan, and a hand bearing the colours of the Chinese flag at a demonstration outside the Chinese consulate in Istanbul in July 2018.

The plight of the Uighurs has captured international attention, with The New York Times having featured a story about Xinjiang above the fold of its front page at least once over the past year.

The US has criticised China over its human rights record in Xinjiang, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo particularly vocal.

But the White House has so far ignored repeated calls by several Democratic and Republican members of Congress to impose sanctions on human-rights offenders in Xinjiang.

Muslim-majority countries, such as Pakistan, have also refused to speak out against the Uighur atrocities. Many analysts say it’s because they don’t want to incur Beijing’s wrath, and lose out on their beneficial economic relationship with China.

Read more:
A wave of Islamic countries started to stand up to China over its persecution of its Muslim minority. But then they all got spooked.

Watch a trailer to the VICE News documentary below. The full version comes out on HBO on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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