A leaked cache of thousands of photos and official documents titled “The Xinjiang Police Files” reveals new information about China’s detention of its Uyghur people.
An anonymous hacker reportedly downloaded and decrypted the secret files from a number of Xinjiang police computer servers before handing them to Dr. Adrian Zenz, a US-based scholar who has previously published research on Xinjiang.
Zenz released the details in an article for the Journal of the European Association for Chinese Studies on Tuesday.
The timing of the leak coincides with a planned visit to China by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
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in a (n BBC interview, Zenz shared, “The material isn’t redacted, it’s raw, it’s unadulterated, it’s diverse. We have everything,” he refers to the extensive records.
“We have confidential documents. We have speech transcripts where leaders speak freely about what they really think. We have spreadsheets. we have pictures This is completely unprecedented and blasts the Chinese propaganda facade.”
The hacked file contains over 5,000 Photos of Uyghurs and other Chinese ethnic Muslim minorities from the Xinjiang region who were arrested by police between January and July 2018.
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Also included are images of the prisons themselves, with prisoners in chains and escorted by officers with batons or guns, Support for previous reports about the condition of the facilities.
The records allegedly end in 2018 as the Chinese government is believed to have used more sophisticated encryption methods in subsequent years.
The BBC released 2,884 photos of the detainees found in the cache, the most recent being 15-year-old Rahile Omer, with her rosy cheeks and hair pulled back in a ponytail, staring straight at the camera.
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The eldest was 73-year-old Anihan Hamit, who was most likely sent to one of the camps for “re-education” along with hundreds of thousands of other Uyghurs like her.
Others can end up in prison for even the slightest offense, including knowing someone who practices, studies or expresses the Islamic faith.
Though the Chinese government insists that the detention centers are “vocational schools,” records guard that armed officers guard every corner of the camp with machine guns and snipers at the ready, with a “shoot-to-kill” policy on anyone who does tries to escape.
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Foreign Minister Wang Yi had already stated in 2019: “The truth is that the education and training centers in Xinjiang are schools that help people break free from extremism.”
China’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Zheng Zeguang, tweeted Tuesday expressing contempt for the BBC article.
“Such a shame for the BBC to be spreading the fabricated story about so-called ‘prison camps’. Pitiful for the media, who are in league with the notorious rumor monger to once again spread disinformation about Xinjiang. Your smear campaign will never stop China from progressing!”
In a tweet earlier that day, Zheng expressed his hope that Bachelet’s visit would “help clear up misinformation and expose rumors and lies with facts and truth.”
The BBC reached out to the Chinese government for comment, and the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, responded with a statement that read: “The essence of Xinjiang-related issues is about countering violent terrorism, radicalization and separatism, not about human rights or religion.”
It also said the Chinese authorities had taken “a variety of decisive, robust and effective deradicalization measures.”
“The region now enjoys social stability and harmony, as well as economic development.”
There was no direct response to the evidence, including the thousands of images and official documents.
Anti-Uyghur sentiment has prevailed through China’s policy after two deadly attacks, one in 2013 and one in 2014, that left dozens dead and hundreds injured. Uyghur Islamist radicals have been blamed for the bombings and killings, although only one of the events was alleged by a terrorist group.
The two events not only reiterated earlier anti-Uyghur sentiments, but also prompted concrete government action, including the construction of educational camps that housed nearly a million detained Uyghurs.
In the Xinjiang region alone, over 12% of the adult population was reportedly detained in either a camp or prison in 2017 and 2018.
Feature image via USA Today