Leaked Documents Offer A Peek Inside China's Detention Of Uighurs

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Some leaked documents, classified documents, offer an inside look at China's detention of Uighurs. Uighurs are members of a minority ethnic group, mainly in western China. They are predominantly Muslim and have been held with other Muslims as a security threat. NPR has reported extensively on the camp's so-called vocational training centers in which many Uighurs have been held.

Now these so-called China cables expose how the camps look to a senior Chinese official writing in private. Chinese authorities have denied the authenticity of the cables, but scholars have been studying them, including Adrian Zenz. He is a China researcher with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and he has been working with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to review the leaked documents. We reached him via Skype.

What do the cables add to that description?

ADRIAN ZENZ: The cables say that these are highly guarded facilities that must have dedicated police stations, dedicated police units, 24-hour guards and extensive anti-escape measures so that the, quote-unquote, "students" cannot escape, cannot get out before they graduate, which is after at least one year of intensive brainwashing.

INSKEEP: And that's what's actually happening, is brainwashing?

ZENZ: Yes - hours of Chinese study, hours of self-confessions, confessing even the slightest involvement in your Islamic religion, confessing having practiced your culture, confessing not speaking Chinese well enough and having to learn Chinese for hours. You can just imagine that for the 75-year-olds who they put in these camps, that's a very hard task.

INSKEEP: We should also mention that when Chinese authorities talk about these camps, they talk of Uighurs or Muslims as a security threat. They talk of concern of terrorism. And there actually have been violent incidents of various kinds in western China over the years. Do the cables offer any justification for that point of view?

ZENZ: The cables simply state that the Uighurs must be reeducated, that they must be put in these facilities and how these facilities must be run. They do not discuss the details. However, the details, we have seen in the speeches, especially of Mr. Xi Jinping, which were leaked by The New York Times last week.

In addition to the cables, I have also been able to obtain another cache of local files, which was not leaked. In these files are local government spreadsheets, these spreadsheets list thousands, tens of thousands, of Uighurs and their families and their children, and they mark who is in detention, who is in prison, who is in a reeducation camp. Oftentimes, you see families, both parents are taken, and all you have left is elderly grandparents, oftentimes ill or unable to work, and very young children to care for.

INSKEEP: That is dramatic news you're giving us because of the specificity. In our reporting, we've encountered a lot of people who have some family member that they think is in a camp, a family member who has disappeared. Do you have information there that might help some people to find their missing relations and loved ones?

ZENZ: I do. The files state names, addresses, ID numbers, ages - every conceivable detail. They also prove that this is absolutely not a campaign trying to educate and give jobs to young people because, by far, the target group of this internment campaign are the heads of households. In some villages, 50% of household heads have been detained.

INSKEEP: Very briefly - does the leakage of these documents suggest some kind of internal concern or dissent about this policy?

ZENZ: That is entirely possible. Government officials have been arrested for not detaining enough Uighurs or not implementing this policy thoroughly enough. It looks like internal resistance is mounting, but it also appears to be that internal resistance is brutally suppressed.

INSKEEP: Mr. Zenz, thank you very much for the insights. Really appreciate it.

ZENZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Adrian Zenz is with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.