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Leaked police files give a glimpse of China’s Uyghur concentration camps

A significant cache of leaked files, including images, documents, speeches and spreadsheets labelled the Xinjiang Police Files, has provided an inside view of China’s campaign of the internment of millions of Uyghur and other ethnic citizens from the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

The cache consists of over 5000 images of detainees, 300,000 personal records, 23,000 detainee records and more than 10 police camp instructions on how to control and monitor the Uyghur population. 

The files were obtained by hacking into networks operated by the Public Security Bureau of two counties, Konasheher from the Kashgar prefecture and Tekes from the Ili prefecture, both regions dominated by ethnic groups. 

The documents have been verified by an independent team led by Dr Adrian Zenz, Director and Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Zenz himself wasn’t a part of the hacking process that extracted the files but was contacted by the hacker instead, who put no conditions on the publication of the cache. The Journal of the European Association for Chinese Studies has also published a peer-reviewed paper on the same. 

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What are China’s detention camps about?

Since 2017, China has been trying to suppress and brainwash Uyghurs and other ethnic populations in Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in the northwest of China.

The move was masked as opening Vocational Skills Education and Training Centres (VSETC) and was under scrutiny. Beijing defended itself, saying that these were boarding schools where the students were free to leave as they wished. 

However, the secretive nature of these camps, in addition to the limited access to the region and strict measures on digital communication, didn’t exactly fall in line with China’s explanation of what was happening.

2018 onwards, satellite imagery, witness accounts and analysis of government documents revealed what was actually going on, but there was no inside imagery or information up until now. The state has admitted that these VSETCs are designed to brainwash, “cleanse hearts”, and “remove evil”.

What’s happening in the camps?

This leak is unprecedented on several levels. First up, it proves that what China is labelling as “vocational training centres” are run like prisons where innocent Uyghurs are being interned and treated like prisoners.

Leaked police files give a glimpse of China's Uyghur concentration camps
Source: Xinjiangpolicefiles.org

The files also prove that Xi Jinping is informed and involved in the act. The cache contains the transcript of a June 15, 2018, speech by Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi pointing to the fact that Jinping was well-informed and actively supported the “re-education”, “strike hard”, and “de-extremification” campaigns running in Xinjiang in addition to spending more money on new detention facilities to handle incoming waves of detainees. 

Zhao’s speech isn’t the only word from an official or even the only speech in the Xinjiang Police Files cache. Security instructions from these re-education camps describe guards carrying assault rifles and having shoot to kill orders should the detainees ever get out of control. 

Leaked police files give a glimpse of China's Uyghur concentration camps
Source: Xinjiangpolicefiles.org

Other documents include PowerPoint presentations, some for training and police staff giving out instructions for using handcuffs, close combat, and searching and arresting suspects.

The Xinjiang Police Files also contain personal information and the exact status of nearly all the detainees in the Konasheher New VSETC and Konasheher Industrial Park VSETC, consisting of around 8,000 detainees. The information included camp numbers and often floor level. There were also detailed internal operations directions for the police stationed at the Konasheher VSETCs. 

According to spreadsheets from the Konasheher VSETC included in the cache, around 12.3 to 12.7% of the entire adult Uyghur population was in some sort of internment in re-education, detention, or prison camps in 2018.

This further shows that Konasheher’s per capita imprisonment rate was over 64 times higher than China’s national average. Out of the 5,000 images in the cache, 2,884 people can be confirmed to have been detained at Konasheher. The photos include uncropped mugshots of detainees, often with prison guards in SWAT gear and automatic weapons standing at the ready.

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