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Beijing’s Abuses Are Laid Bare in Xinjiang Police Files

New findings add to mounting evidence of China’s brutal crackdown on the Uyghurs.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
The Chinese flag is seen behind razor wire in Xinjiang.
The Chinese flag is seen behind razor wire in Xinjiang.
The Chinese flag is seen behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China’s western Xinjiang region on June 4, 2019. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the Xinjiang police files, Texas’s elementary school massacre, and North Korea’s missile tests.

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Xinjiang Police Files Show Human Rights Abuses

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the Xinjiang police files, Texas’s elementary school massacre, and North Korea’s missile tests.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Xinjiang Police Files Show Human Rights Abuses

An extensive data leak from Chinese police computer networks has shed new light on Beijing’s mass detention centers in Xinjiang—and the Uyghurs who have been trapped in them.

The hacked data, known as the “Xinjiang police files,” includes more than 5,000 images of Uyghurs, police spreadsheets, and confidential documents from two counties in Xinjiang. It adds to a trove of evidence on Beijing’s brutal, yearslong crackdown on Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.

The thousands of mugshot-like photographs, in particular, offer a chilling glimpse into who the detainees are and the conditions they face in the centers. Of the 5,000 images obtained, corresponding data confirms that more than 2,800 of the people were detained, according to researchers. 

In some instances, the detainees are photographed while an armed guard holding a baton stands by their side. Others appear to be distressed, even tearful

As the files reveal, minors are not spared from detention. Of the Uyghur detainees documented in the leak, 15 were minors, with the youngest person just 15 years old when she was detained. The elderly aren’t spared either: The oldest person photographed was 73 years old. 

“In terms of visual evidence that evokes sympathy and an emotional response, this collection of documents stands apart from what we’ve seen so far,” said Timothy Grose, a professor at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. “These are really kind of arresting images. … We’ve had nothing like that before.”

Internal police documents reflect a brutal system, with an official “shoot-to-kill” policy in place when Uyghurs attempt to leave. Under protocol, the documents say, all detainees must also be handcuffed and blindfolded while moved between buildings.

These files, which date back to 2018, were verified and published by a group of media outlets and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. They build on years of survivor testimony, reporting, and satellite imagery that experts have used to help uncover the scale and scope of Beijing’s crackdown. One Uyghur county has the highest imprisonment rate in the world, according to the Associated Press, and reports have emerged of forced sterilization and labor. In 2018, the United Nations said it had credible information that as many as 1 million Uyghurs could be detained in the camps. 

With the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, in China this week, Beijing insisted the leak was an act of political sabotage. “The U.S., Britain and other Western countries have been repeatedly staging political farces around the U.N. high commissioner for human rights’ visit to China,” said Wang Wenbin, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.

Elsewhere, the findings have sparked global outcry. Germany announced that it would adjust its foreign policy toward China while British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss reiterated her commitment to holding Beijing accountable. 

“We are appalled by the reports and the jarring images,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price. “This new reporting further adds to an already damning body of evidence of [China’s] atrocities in Xinjiang.”


What We’re Following Today

Texas school massacre. Nineteen children and two elementary school teachers were killed on Monday after an armed gunman attacked a Texas elementary school. The massacre, the deadliest elementary school shooting in almost a decade, is the 27th school shooting in the United States just this year. It comes after a spate of gun violence: In recent weeks, a deadly supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York, killed 10 people, and an assault at a California church left one person dead and five injured. 

“To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday night. “As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”

North Korea missile tests. Hours after Biden concluded his Asia tour, North Korea launched three ballistic missiles off of its eastern coast, the South Korean military reported. One of the tests may have involved an intercontinental ballistic missile

“North Korea’s sustained provocations can only result in stronger and faster South Korea-U.S. combined deterrence and can only deepen North Korea’s international isolation,” the South Korean government said.


Keep an Eye On

Black Sea blackmail. Global leaders have accused Russia of weaponizing food supplies as the Kremlin’s Black Sea blockade traps vital Ukrainian crops, leaving import-reliant countries struggling to cope with surging food prices. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, many urged action to remove the millions of tons of grain still stuck in Ukraine. 

“Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail, holding back supplies to increase global prices or trading wheat in exchange for political support,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. 

Afghanistan’s airport deal. A United Arab Emirates-based company will soon run Afghanistan’s airports in Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar, under a new agreement signed Tuesday. With this deal, “the international airlines, which have been away from this country in the last few months, will come back to us,” said Razack Aslam Mohammed Abdur Razack of GAAC Solutions.


Odds and Ends 

Nigerian commuters were baffled and amused on Tuesday when a passenger jet was seen crawling along a major highway in Lagos amid heavy traffic. Social media footage of the airplane being towed as pedestrians passed by immediately led to rumors that it had crashed. Others found it oddly beautiful. “At first I thought it was an art work,” commented one commuter who took a video of the incident.

Lagos airport authorities eventually stepped in to assure the citys residents that there had been no crash landing. “The aircraft was sold by the owner to a buyer, who was talking it to its final destination. Thank you,” the statement said.

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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