Pictures of Religious Prisoners Capture Chinese Human Rights Abuses
A stunning trove of documents, including photos taken inside Chinese prison cells and internment camps, reveals that the crackdown on China’s Uyghur Muslim population has been directed from the highest levels — and sunk to the lowest depths of abuse.
Sources inside the country say they hacked government computers to obtain more than 2,800 images of Uyghur detainees, hundreds of thousands of personal files, and detailed instructions from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials that show human rights abuses are official policy.
The CCP has long claimed it operates voluntary ”vocational skills education and training centers” for its Muslim population in Xinjiang province. CCP officials said the threat of Islamic extremist terrorism required greater “patriotic” education, which allows the willing attendees to learn valuable job training skills.
In reality, survivors say that more than one million Uyghurs and other minorities in the internment camps have been subjected to mass re-education, torture, and forced abortions.
Now, human rights officials have a “smoking gun” to prove their claims, said Adrian Zenz, the senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Fund, on Wednesday’s episode of “Washington Watch.” “Before we had documents; we had witness accounts; we had satellite images. But now we have images” from inside the camps, he explained.
The new documents, known as the “Xinjiang Police Files,” offer valuable confirmation of previous claims and reveal new information about China’s systemic abuse of religious believers.
“We knew that the reeducation internment camps were being run like prisons,” said Zenz. “But we didn’t know, for example, that in the watchtowers of those camps, the police guards are supposed to use sniper rifles like the same as the military, that they’re supposed to use tripod-mounted machine guns — again, the same as the People’s Liberation Army. We also didn’t know that [Chinese President] Xi Jinping personally, upon hearing that the internment camps were overcrowded in 2018, personally ordered the recruitment of more prison guards, more camp guards, and the construction of additional camps.”
Accompanying documents show other high-ranking CCP officials ordered the abuse.
In 2017, the then-secretary of the Xinjiang Communist Party, Chen Quanguo, told guards to spare no brutality when subduing religious believers. “We must treat them as serious criminals, and first handcuff them, and then put hoods over their heads. ... If needed, we should shackle them,” he said. “Shoot him dead if he run[s] a few steps. ... [J]ust kill them.”
Police officers who shoot prisoners will have “no problem, because we have already authorized this a long time ago,” he said. “Why are you being so kind to them?”
The description of placing hoods over the heads of religious believers verifies eyewitness testimony recorded in a 127-page report released by Amnesty International last July. That report also detailed brutal beatings for the most minor of offenses. A farmer named Mansur told Amnesty International that he was asked if he prayed during a trip to Kazakhstan. “They said, ‘All that time with livestock, you became an animal too!’ Then they hit me with a chair until it broke,” he remembers. “I fell to the floor. I almost fainted.” The report also contained detailed reports of sexual abuse and gang rapes.
The CCP followed the abuse with forced abortions, according to the U.S. State Department. “The CCP is perpetrating a sustained campaign of forced sterilization, forced abortion, and involuntary implantation of birth control,” the U.S. government reports. “Recent, documented evidence of these practices in Xinjiang is consistent with decades of CCP practices that demonstrate an utter disregard for the sanctity of human life and basic human dignity.”
The CCP’s persecution of Muslims dovetails with communism’s opposition to all forms of religious belief. President Xi has reiterated his demand for the “Sinicization” of all religions, requiring people of all faiths to adopt the principles of socialism and support the CCP. At the end of Ramadan, the chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region told a mosque that CCP officials plan to “actively take the lead in fitting the Islamic religion into socialist society.”
Those who do not comply end up in the Xinjiang police files.
Despite abundant evidence of the CCP’s persecution of religion, “European governments have long been very hesitant to say anything,” said Zenz. “The U.S. has been relatively outspoken, except for a lull last year when they were hoping to get China over for a climate change agreement, which did not work out.”
World leaders “still have a way to go to ... impose stronger consequences on the Communist Party,” he told Perkins.
A Chinese proverb says, “The beginning of wisdom is the ability to call things by their right names.” In that case, the CCP’s treatment of its religious population must be called a human rights abuse — and its perpetrators must be called to account.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.