/Heartbreak, Disinformation, and New Punitive Measures in the Wake of Xinjiang Police Files Release – China Digital Times (CDT)

Heartbreak, Disinformation, and New Punitive Measures in the Wake of Xinjiang Police Files Release – China Digital Times (CDT)

With the release of the on Tuesday, the world has seen what Xinjiang’s “re-education” camps look like from inside official Chinese government databases: mugshots of thousands of faces, spreadsheets filled with personal data on detainees, and training guidelines  for guards, including in the event of a detainee escape. The photos and files have elicited a range of empathetic emotions from Uyghur communities in exile, Chinese netizens, and foreign governments, and an increased resolve for accountability. For the Chinese government, however, the release of the files has provided another opportunity to deny the evidence and

For Uyghurs, the files were a vivid reminder of the their community has suffered from the CCP’s policies in Xinjiang. But not everyone was eager to look. “ thinking is there a family member, is there a neighbour or someone that they studied with or somebody they may know that are in the pictures that are being released,” said Ramila Chanisheff, president of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association. Erin Handley from Australian national broadcaster ABC described

“I couldn’t stop my tears,” said [Rayhangul Abliz, who searched for her parents, residents of a neighboring area].

“All of them look like my dad or my brothers, every [pair of] eyes looks like [they are] asking me … ‘Please help me’.”

[…] Ramila Chanisheff described the “devastation” many felt when looking at long sentences handed down for “absurd” reasons.

“It was extremely painful to read the report and see the thousands of innocent faces on the screen,” she said.

“We have relatives over there. So [we’ve been] scouring through the pictures.

“You can hear the anxiety and the stress and sadness in their voices.”

[…] Fatimah Abdulghafur, whose father was detained in Xinjiang in 2017 and died the following year, said looking at the photos was “retraumatising”. []

Sometimes I just feel I can’t read one more new “discovery” related to Xinjiang. I hope those who rationalize their whatever problematic dealings in Xinjiang/China by saying “we can’t do anything about it” look at the eyes of the people in those photos.https://t.co/347QcU39bz

— Yaqiu Wang 王亚秋 (@Yaqiu) May 24, 2022

Writer and linguist Abduweli Ayup and other Uyghurs identified some of their friends and family members among the new photographs:

Uyghurs were identified from XinjiangPoliceFiles 3.Metyar Ghopur. He is my high school classmate, working as technician at the water office of Toquzaq, Kashgar, got arrested in 2017, he was accused of terrorism for doing nothing about terrorism. pic.twitter.com/eWJicltiWm

— Abduweli Ayup (@AbduwelA) May 27, 2022

When you zoom in, you can see a nightmare story of each individual and one of the millions is my dad. #UyghurGenocide #SaveUyghur #FreeQurbanMamut pic.twitter.com/hEh2z0OAqf

— Bahram Kurban Sintash (@Bsintash) May 25, 2022

No words to describe the personal agony endured by Uyghurs for so many years. Between no news or news as #XinjiangPoliceFiles I cannot begin to fathom the suffering. Thank you to advocates as @AbduwelA for relentless courage. We owe you our daily commitment to end this genocide. https://t.co/G0ywtK3xsG

— Laura Harth 😷 🇹🇼 🍎 (@LauraHarth) May 27, 2022

In a powerful Twitter thread, Babur Ilchi summarized the mixed reactions many Uyghurs had to the photographs:

That’s how starved for information our diaspora is- that we’re willing to go through thousands of photographs that we start feeling sick and angry. We hope but we don’t hope.

And at the same time, we already know. Even if their photos aren’t there, we see them anyway. (2/9)

— Babur Ilchi (@BaburIlchi) May 24, 2022

Reading about shoot-to-kill orders and see the drills where riot police pin down a man with a bag on their head on the ground, we wonder if that happened to our fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles. If they had a bag on their head and a knee on their back. A gun to their head. (4/9)

— Babur Ilchi (@BaburIlchi) May 24, 2022

I felt the same way in February last year, when BBC’s article on sexual violence against camp detainees was released. And again in June last year, when Uyghurs testified at the Uyghur Tribunal. And again in September. (6/9)

— Babur Ilchi (@BaburIlchi) May 24, 2022

With @mbachelet set to visit our homeland, I wonder what good will come from it. Will she do the right thing? She’s already said this is not an “investigation”, that she’s there to promote, protect, and respect human rights. She can start with here, if she means it. (8/9)

— Babur Ilchi (@BaburIlchi) May 24, 2022

[email protected] has a report on Uyghurs sitting there, waiting. Waiting for what? How much longer do we wait?

We’re already 5 years in. We’ll keep fighting for justice, for truth, for an end to this genocide. It would be nice for the rest of the world to catch up. (9/9)

— Babur Ilchi (@BaburIlchi) May 24, 2022

On Weibo, . CDT editors have compiled and translated some of their Weibo comments, with the names of the commenters anonymized to protect their identities: 

Iha****say:Seeing this made me so very sad. They did nothing wrong, but were deprived of their freedom and all the possibilities of life, and then that was covered up and buried. Why was this done to them?

DE****S:A feeling of powerlessness.

hus****hu:That first photo—once you’ve seen it, you’ll never be able to forget it.

sinc*****icui:Looking into her eyes, I felt as if I’d been pulled into the abyss …

sinc*****icui:After seeing those photos and reading those files, I opened up my Weibo and WeChat and wanted to vomit. I feel like none of us is innocent, and I am guilty, too. []

Many Uyghurs worked to capitalize on the global spotlight to push for greater accountability. Two days after the leak of the Xinjiang Police Files, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) began its “” in Munich, bringing together over 200 activists, experts, and policymakers to discuss international advocacy strategies and the . “Condemnation and empty statements cannot stop genocide,” WUC president Dolkun Isa said, adding, “.” Mentioning the Xinjiang Police Files at the Oslo Freedom Forum, Jewher Ilham, daughter of detained Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, stated: “. Together, we may actually have what it takes to free my family and friends who are locked up, who are trapped in this endless life of captivity.” 

Panel discussion: “Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect” moderated by @GfbV’s Hanno Schedler. – as part of the II East Turkistan Uyghur Summit. pic.twitter.com/AdmLG7UYym

— World Uyghur Congress (@UyghurCongress) May 26, 2022

🔴 The 2022 East Turkistan / Uyghur Summit is now LIVE. @ZumretErkin and @IptiharUYG will moderate simultaneously in English and Uyghur.

The session started with remarks on the #XinjiangPoliceFiles, which demonstrate grave atrocity crimes. pic.twitter.com/75iUFNeXxc

— World Uyghur Congress (@UyghurCongress) May 26, 2022

Our team arrived in Munich to attend the international summit joined by delegates of Uyghur community from different countries. The leaked #XinjiangPoliceFiles gave us power to keep fighting. https://t.co/imsOatGQcu

— Belgium Uyghur Association (@BelgiumUyghur) May 25, 2022

In a significant move following the release of the Xinjiang Police Files, German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz issued Germany’s first top-level . Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Germany would and to cut dependencies, stating: “. Appeasement for economic interests is no strategy.” Michael Roth, Chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, stated that these changes would apply to German companies in Xinjiang, for whom “.” Members of the European Parliament have also been vocal following the release of the files. Reinhard Bütikofer called on EU member states to impose on China, and Raphaël Glucksmann called on the UN Human Rights office to by publishing its report on Xinjiang.

Germany has refused investment guarantees in China due to human rights issues in Xinjiang

Related to Volkswagen – first time a guarantee has not been given on human rights groundshttps://t.co/xv5XlImClS

— Finbarr Bermingham (@fbermingham) May 27, 2022

C’est un moment important. Le régime chinois a tout fait pour que la déportation d’un peuple reste sans image, les victimes sans visage et les camps sans lumière. Pour lutter contre les bourreaux, il faut rendre visibles leurs crimes et briser le silence qui les entoure.

— Raphael Glucksmann (@rglucks1) May 24, 2022

#IPAC statement on the #XinjiangPoliceFiles.

These revelations expose again the PRC government’s claims that the camps are for ‘re-education’ and ‘counter-terrorism’ purposes as a lie.

As @UNHumanRights visits the region, the PRC cannot be allowed to whitewash over the abuses. pic.twitter.com/4KARMvGE9y

— Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (@ipacglobal) May 24, 2022

The new tone was echoed in the European press. An editorial by Germany’s Der Spiegel read, “In the wake of the Xinjiang Police Files torture revelations, policymakers must ask themselves: ” An editorial by France’s Le Monde launched an “,” noting that the Xinjiang Police Files “remind us that we must keep our eyes wide open to the reality of China’s repression of ethnic minorities.” Spain’s El País also concluded that the files “.”

One domain where governments have been putting rhetoric into action is in the regulation of supply chains by . Much of the discussion has revolved around , but as a recent report from C4ADS noted, the problem extends to at least that are part of global supply chains. In response to the Xinjiang Police Files, Franziska Brantner, state secretary of the German Ministry of Economy, said the European Commission “,” adding that it “will be important to work on it rapidly.” In the U.S., the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) will soon come into force on June 21, unleashing a funded by of enforcement capacity. Alexandra Stevenson and Sapna Maheshwari of The New York Times reported how

Cotton from Xinjiang is widely used in the global garment industry. As of last fall, 16 percent of cotton clothes on store shelves in the United States had fiber from Xinjiang, according to a survey by Oritain, a company that does forensic testing to determine the origin of raw materials. But regulation soon to go into effect in the United States will allow customs officers to seize shipments of any goods that are made in Xinjiang unless companies can prove their supply chains are not tainted with forced labor.

The new rule, called the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and the inability of companies to determine what is happening in their supply chains are unraveling decades of the clothing industry’s expansion in China.

“That era is drawing to a close because of the gravity of the forced-labor crisis and the broader human-rights crisis in the Uyghur region,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a steering committee member of the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region. “The increasing authoritarianism of the Chinese government across the board is creating a situation where business as usual isn’t feasible anymore.” []

Last year C4ADS mapped out how cotton & tomato products produced by forced labor by Uyghurs in Xinjiang were permeating global markets. Now, we’ve identified 7 more major goods disproportionately produced in Xinjiang that implicate global trade. 🧵 1/9

Predictably, the Chinese government received the release of the Xinjiang Police Files with scorn. At a press briefing on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called it “,” adding, “the lies and rumors they spread cannot deceive the world.” China has that the recurring evidence of abuses in Xinjiang is false. When UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet arrived in China earlier this week, Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed his hope that her visit would “.” Meanwhile, the CCP has engaged in a to assert its own narrative regarding Xinjiang. A released Friday by The Brookings Institution and the Alliance for Securing Democracy demonstrates how Beijing continues to to shape views on Xinjiang and COVID-19. Covering the report for The Wall Street Journal, Karen Hao described how :

Searches for “Xinjiang” returned content from Chinese state outlets in the top results on YouTube almost daily over the duration of the study, which covered 120 days from November to February, as well as close to 90% of the time on either Google’s or Bing’s news sites.

The searched content that came up from state-controlled providers typically denied widespread media and scholarly reports of human-rights abuses in the region, casting them as part of a coordinated attempt by Western governments to smear China.

[…] On Thursday, shortly after the release of the trove, a U.S.-based search for “Adrian Zenz” turned up one Chinese state media result on the first page of Google and four of the top 10 videos on YouTube, attacking the scholar’s credentials and accusing him of lying.

[…] Chinese state media outlets were able to break through to top results regularly on web search, which prioritizes measures of a source’s quality, for more targeted terms like “Xinjiang terrorism” or Mr. Zenz’s name, reflecting Beijing’s creation of a robust information network, according to Joan Donovan, research director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. []

“Xinjiang” — a neutral term! — regularly returned state-backed content across news searches, with at least one Chinese state-backed news outlet appearing in the top 10 results in almost 90% of our searches (88%). pic.twitter.com/sSXnjlTusC

— Jessica Brandt (@jessbrandt) May 27, 2022

This demonstrates how easy it is for users to stumble across state-backed content in news results even when searching for a neutral term.

— Jessica Brandt (@jessbrandt) May 27, 2022

If you want to see how that works in real life, here are the results of a U.S.-based incognito YouTube search for @adrianzenz a day after he released the Xinjiang Police Files, a trove leaked Chinese police documents. China accounts for 4 out of the top 10 results pic.twitter.com/qb9poiNKwr

— Josh Chin (@joshchin) May 27, 2022

With translation by Cindy Carter.