Leaked Database Reveals Intensity of Imprisonment in Xinjiang; Rights Groups Skeptical of UN Visit

A recently leaked police database reviewed by AFP and AP identifies over 10,000 Uyghurs from a county in southwestern Xinjiang who have been detained on terrorism-related charges. The list, thus far the largest reported, demonstrates the massive scale of incarceration in Xinjiang, where over one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minority members have been arbitrarily detained in a state-led campaign that numerous foreign governments, independent experts, and human rights groups say has involved crimes against humanity. Huizhong Wu and Dake Kang from AP described how nearly one in 25 people in Konasheher county were imprisoned, giving it the highest known imprisonment rate in the world:

Konasheher county is typical of rural southern Xinjiang, and more than 267,000 people live there. The prison sentences across the county were for two to 25 years, with an average of nine years, the list shows. While the people on the list were mostly arrested in 2017, according to Uyghurs in exile, their sentences are so long that the vast majority would still be in prison.

[…] The list was obtained by Xinjiang scholar Gene Bunin from an anonymous source who described themselves as a member of China’s Han Chinese majority “opposed to the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang.” It was passed to the AP by Abduweli Ayup, an exiled Uyghur linguist in Norway. The AP authenticated it through interviews with eight Uyghurs who recognized 194 people on the list, as well as legal notices, recordings of phone calls with Chinese officials and checks of address, birthdays and identity numbers.

The list does not include people with typical criminal charges such as homicide or theft. Rather, it focuses on offenses related to terrorism, religious extremism or vague charges traditionally used against political dissidents, such as “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” This means the true number of people imprisoned is almost certainly higher.

But even at a conservative estimate, Konasheher county’s imprisonment rate is more than 10 times higher than that of the United States, one of the world’s leading jailers, according to Department of Justice statistics. It’s also more than 30 times higher than for China as a whole, according to state statistics from 2013, the last time such figures were released. [Source]

The Xinjiang Victims Database presented a summary of the cases on Twitter:

In describing the list, AFP reported on a second leaked police database that contains the names of even more detained Uyghurs:

A second suspected leaked police database seen by AFP identifies another 18,000 Uyghurs, mostly from Kashgar and Aksu prefectures, detained between 2008 and 2015.

Of these the vast majority were charged with vague terrorism-related offences. 

Several hundred were linked to the 2009 Urumqi riots in which nearly 200 people died. Over 900 individuals were accused of manufacturing explosives.

Nearly 300 cases mentioned watching or possessing “illegal” videos.

One Uyghur living in Europe who wishes to stay anonymous told AFP he recognised six friends on the second list, including one who was 16 at the time of detention. [Source]

Amid the mounting evidence of extralegal detention and other abuses in Xinjiang, UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet is set to visit the region later this month, after four years of publicly requesting access. Her five-member team is already in Guangzhou undergoing quarantine and preparing for Bachelet’s arrival. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Bachelet’s office stated that “the purpose of [our] visit is really … a dialogue with the Chinese government” in order to “to build further engagement between the UN Human Rights Office and China.” However, access may be limited, given COVID restrictions and other barriers to interacting with individuals on the ground. One of many barriers, as described by Shohret Hoshur from Radio Free Asia, is a recent Chinese government directive forbidding Uyghurs to communicate with the UN team

The Chinese government has issued a new directive that forbids Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region from discussing the network of internment camps or accepting calls from international phone numbers ahead of an expected visit by the United Nations human rights chief, a police office in the region told RFA.

The officer, who works in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) and declined to give his name, told RFA that police received special government notices on how to prepare for the visit this month by Michelle Bachelet, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights.

[…] Officials issued a notice prohibiting Uyghurs from speaking about “re-education” or internment camps, but added that if the topic arose, they should only mention positive aspects of re-education, namely that it is a pathway to living a good and normal life, the Kashgar officer said.

Uyghurs have been told not to speak spontaneously when the U.N. team arrives and asks questions, he said.

“We were told not to speak about re-education and the current situation, and that we should speak positively about life here,” the police officer said. [Source]

The directive warning Uyghurs to not accept international phone calls coincides with the recent move by Chinese telecom providers to block international calls in certain provinces, allegedly in order to prevent phone scams. Users of some providers have been required to actively register in order to continue receiving international calls. 

Human rights groups have grown increasingly critical of Bachelet’s handling of the abuses in Xinjiang, her upcoming visit, and her UN report on human rights violations in Xinjiang, which is at least five months overdue. Noting that she has refused to meet with Uyghur survivors of the “re-education camps” or with other civil society organizations, a coalition of 220 Tibetan, Uyghur, Hong Kong, Southern Mongolian, and Chinese democracy groups called on Bachelet to postpone her visit to China. Many worry that a staged visit will whitewash the government’s abuses. During a week-long protest outside UN offices in Geneva in late April, one former detainee, Gulbahar Haitiwaji, said: “What worries me most is that it’s really not useful but damaging if Michelle Bachelet does not see the real genocide and real repression, but only meets with the people and fake stages set up by China.” In The Diplomat, Omer Kanat, Executive Director at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, provided a scathing indictment of Bachelet and criticism of a “visit that will not meet the U.N.’s own minimum terms for a credible investigation”:

Uyghurs have no faith that any U.N. report based on a visit organized by the Chinese government will do anything to hold to account the perpetrators of our suffering. What Bachelet will be shown is a rebuilt land, and a people who have been brutally “reeducated,” now that the government’s genocidal project has had free rein for nearly five years. 

[…] Civil society groups documenting the Uyghur crisis are consistently denied accreditation to participate in U.N. forums. The U.N. Office on Genocide Prevention has not said a word. Now the U.N.’s highest human rights official has shelved an independent report and has agreed to a visit allowing the Chinese government to put on a show. 

It is a sad indictment of the United Nations, an organization established in the aftermath of one cataclysmic genocide, that it has yet to impose any consequences, or even to officially condemn, China’s ongoing high-tech genocide against the Uyghur people. [Source]

Meanwhile, evidence of the Chinese government’s repression against Uyghurs inside and outside China continues to build. Inside Xinjiang, a recent analysis by Radio Free Asia revealed that Chinese authorities have demolished Kashgar’s Grand Bazaar, Xinjiang’s largest international trade market and a bastion of Uyghur culture. Outside of Xinjiang, a recent Wilson Center study by Bradley Jardine documented that, over the past 25 years, there was an average of at least one case per week of transnational repression against Uyghurs by the Chinese government. International entities have been slow to protect Uyghur diasporas, and some have even been complicit in the government abuses. On Tuesday, the NGO Freedom from Torture released a report analyzing the links between the UK and police training institutions in Xinjiang. Here are some of the report’s key findings:

London Policing College (LPC) is a UK private company which provides police training internationally – including for China, where it has declared partnerships with eight universities, at least some of which have ties to policing in Xinjiang. 

[…] LPC has received UK Overseas Development Assistance funding via the British Council China for its partnerships with Shanghai Police College and Hunan Police Academy. 

[…] LPC has collaborated with China’s Ministry of Public Security which is responsible for policing across China. The Ministry of Public Security plays a leading role in “Xinjiang Aid”, a national programme under which police reinforcements have been deployed to Xinjiang from across the country to enact the government’s brutal policies. 

LPC partnered with China’s most elite national policing university, the People’s Public Security University of China (PPSUC). PPSUC both trains and supplies personnel for police work in Xinjiang. 

PPSUC engages in training cooperation with Xinjiang Police College and the Xinjiang Public Security Department, which was sanctioned by the USA for its role in human rights violations in 2020, as well as the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which was sanctioned by the UK in 2021. [Source]

While international institutions and entities fail the Uyghurs, activists and others are winning recognition for their own efforts to expose the human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Fahmida Azim, Anthony Del Col, Josh Adams, and Walt Hickey were recently awarded the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Illustrated Reporting and Commentary, “for using graphic reportage and the comics medium to tell a powerful yet intimate story of the Chinese oppression of the Uyghurs, making the issue accessible to a wider public.” Their comic, published for Insider, is titled “How I Escaped a Chinese Internment Camp.” On Sunday, the German city of Nuremberg awarded the International Nuremberg Human Rights Award to Sayragul Sauytbay, a Kazakh survivor of Xinjiang’s “re-education camps,” who was the first victim to publicly testify about the camps. In her speech, she vowed to continue speaking out and working towards world peace.

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