'Appalled': World leaders call for action after hacked files detail Uyghur internment camps

·5 min read

The State Department's top spokesman on Tuesday denounced China's ongoing atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims, citing "jarring" new photos and other evidence published by an international media consortium including USA TODAY.

"We are appalled by the reports and the jarring images" of China's internment camps in Xinjiang, the spokesman, Ned Price, said at the State Department's press briefing Tuesday.

"This new reporting further adds to an already damning body of evidence of the PRC's atrocities in Xinjiang," he said, referring to the People's Republic of China.

His remarks come after USA TODAY and other global media outlets reported on a trove of secret files and photographs that paint a stark picture of China's detention and internment of the Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

The files include more than 5,000 photos of what appear to be Uyghur people taken at police facilities – essentially mug shots – along with images from inside a detention center in Xinjiang. According to a U.S.-based China researcher, Adrian Zenz, the files were obtained by a hacker who took them from the computer systems of two local police agencies in China. The hacker then gave the files to Zenz, who analyzed them and shared them with the news organizations.

Subscriber exclusive: Inside China's secret Uyghur detention system

Visual story: Hacked data and photos offer unprecedented evidence of China's secret Uyghur detention system

The files also include transcribed speeches attributed to two high-level Chinese Communist Party officials, according to Zenz.

In the speech text, verified by an independent translator for USA TODAY, one of the men urges local officials to treat members of targeted ethnic groups as hardened criminals: to be arrested on sight, to be shackled if necessary, and, for any detainees who might try to escape, to be shot.

The new disclosures prompted outrage in other world capitals as well – and anguish among the Uyghur diaspora.

"This is not something to be ignored, nor is it anything to remain silent about," Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Tuesday.

Baerbock's office said she raised the "shocking reports and new evidence of very serious human rights violations in Xinjiang" with her Chinese counterpart during an hour-long video conference on Tuesday, in which she also called for "a transparent investigation."

More: Hacked data and photos offer unprecedented evidence of China's secret Uyghur detention system

A visit by the United Nations

As the Xinjiang police file reports were being published by USA TODAY and other media around the world, a visit to the region by the UN's high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, was getting under way.

In London, the U.K.'s foreign secretary Liz Truss denounced the new details of China's human rights violations in Xinjiang, and called on China to give the UN team "unfettered access to the region."

Chinese officials dismissed the new revelations as full of "lies and rumors."

It's "the latest example of the anti-China forces’ smearing of Xinjiang," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Tuesday at a press briefing in Beijing.

"The lies and rumors they spread cannot deceive the world, nor can they hide the fact that Xinjiang enjoys peace and stability, its economy is thriving and its people live and work in peace and contentment," he said.

Chinese officials have portrayed detention centers as "vocational education and training centers" – benevolent, state-run schools designed to help stamp out extremism. Zenz and others say they are internment facilities, designed to stamp out Uyghur identity and culture.

Detainees stand at attention for security personnel inside Tekes Detention Center.
Detainees stand at attention for security personnel inside Tekes Detention Center.

Wang declined to say whether Bachelet's team would be able to visit the so-called vocational centers or to interview Uyghur "trainees" while they are in Xinjiang.

"This visit is a trip to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation, as well as to clarify misinformation," he said. He said Bachelet will have "extensive exchanges with people from all walks of life during her visit to China."

But Price said Bachelet's team will be operating under such tight restrictions that they will not be able to conduct a real investigation into the human rights situation in Xinjiang.

"We think it was a mistake to agree to a visit under these circumstances," Price said. "The high commissioner will not be granted the type of unhindered access, free and full access, that would be required to complete (an) assessment and to come back with a full picture of the atrocities, the crimes against humanity, and the genocide ongoing in Xinjiang."

Claims of genocide in Xinjiang

Human rights groups say China has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minority groups in "extrajudicial internment camps" and engaged in other crimes against humanity, citing evidence of rape, torture and forced abortion and sterilization. 

The Biden administration has labeled China's actions "genocide," and experts say the intent is to destroy Uyghur culture, identity and religion.

Asked whether the U.S. believes the chain of command on China's repression of the Uyghurs runs directly up to President Xi Jinping, Price said he would not offer a "tactical assessment" of that.

But, he added, "in a system like the PRC's, it would be very difficult to imagine that a systemic effort to suppress, to detain, to conduct a campaign of genocide and crimes against humanity, would not have ... the approval of the highest levels of the PRC government."

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, an international organization that promotes Uyghur rights and opposes China's "occupation" of the Xinjiang region, said the new disclosures show "the inner workings of China's system of repression, and the intentions that are at the core of this system." The secret files contradict China's narrative of "re-education," "counter-terrorism" and "Uyghurs living a happy life," he said.

He hopes that "being confronted with such important new evidence, the international community will finally do what it takes to end these atrocities."

More:

A hacker, a researcher and thousands of photos: Inside China's secret Uyghur detention system

The US says China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs. Here's some of the most chilling evidence.

Her Uyghur friend disappeared. Now this Boston woman is on a mission to draw attention to China's 'genocide'

Security personnel guard detainees inside Tekes Detention Center in Xinjiang, China.
Security personnel guard detainees inside Tekes Detention Center in Xinjiang, China.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Xinjiang police files: World leaders call for investigation

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