A leak of thousands of photos and official documents from the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang appears to show that the mass internment of Muslim Uyghurs is far from voluntary.
The files were obtained by U.S.-based anti-communist academic Adrian Zenz, from an anonymous source who hacked into official databases in Xinjiang.
The leaked documents showed top leaders in Beijing, including President Xi Jinping, calling for a forceful crackdown.
They include detailed instructions on how to run internment camps, from what kinds of force can be used against prisoners to details such as how to man watch towers with sniper rifles and infantry-grade machine guns.
They also include a 2017 internal speech by Chen Quanguo, a former Communist Party secretary in Xinjiang, in which he allegedly ordered guards to shoot to kill anyone who tried to escape, and called for officials in the region to “exercise firm control over religious believers.”
And in a 2018 internal speech, Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi mentioned direct orders from Xi to increase the capacity of detention facilities.
Some of the most disturbing files are the nearly 5,000 photos taken at internment camps including 2,884 of detained Uyghurs taken by police officers.
Photos appear to show officers restraining hooded and shackled inmates with batons, while other guards wearing camouflage stand by with firearms.
The leaked documents also provide an insight into how leaders saw the minority population as a security threat, with Zhao warning that more than two million people in southern Xinjiang alone had been “severely influenced by the infiltration of extremist religious thought.”
The United States voiced horror at the new files and said they showed that abuse had probably been approved at the highest levels in Beijing.
“We are appalled by the reports and the jarring images,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “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 blessing – would not have the approval – of the highest levels of the PRC government.
“We have and we continue to call on the PRC to immediately release all those arbitrarily detained people, to abolish the internment camps, to end mass detention, torture, forced sterilisation, and the use of forced labour.”
After initially denying the existence of the camps, Beijing said in 2018 they were vocational training schools, and Uyghurs and other minorities attended them voluntarily.
China’s foreign ministry dismissed the leaked documents as “cobbled-together material” by “anti-China forces smearing Xinjiang,” with spokesman Wang Wenbin accusing the media of “spreading lies and rumours.”
And China’s ambassador to the UK, Zheng Zeguang, tweeted: “Such a shame for BBC to carry the fabricated story about so-called ‘detention camps’. Pathetic for the media, in cahoots with the notorious rumour monger, to once again spread disinformation about Xinjiang.”