New details, revealed by leaked documents, offer a rare insight into the deliberations of one of the world's most opaque governments: China. The New York Times had access to 403 pages of Communist Party guidelines, reports, internal investigation notes, and internal speeches by party officials, including President Xi Jinping, on the origins of more than one mass arrest plans. million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province.
These documents show how a wave of ethnic violence and terrorist attacks in the early 1990s convinced Xi to release the "organs of dictatorship" – his own words, in a private speech. Apparently this involved mass confrontations, the construction of a 21st century control and surveillance apparatus and a systematic attack on the ability of local residents to observe their Islamic faith.
As justification for the crackdown, a senior Chinese official in Xinjiang warned of the "risks" of putting "human rights above security" in a 10-page directive starting in 2017.
The leaking document also points to internal disagreement over repression in the region, as it was handed over to the New York Times by a figure from the "Chinese political establishment" who "expressed hope that its disclosure would prevent party leaders, including Xi, from escape blame for mass arrests ".
Threat to young Muslims
One of the most striking documents is a classified directive issued to local authorities in an eastern city of Xinjiang about how to talk to Uighur students returning from other parts of China and finding that their relatives and friends have disappeared in detention camps.
They were instructed to tell young people that their relatives had been "infected with harmful thoughts," framing the state's distrust of Muslim minorities in clinical terms. "Freedom is only possible when this 'virus' in your mind is eradicated and they are in good health," the directive said.
The New York Times also reported evidence of what appears to be a "scoring system" used by authorities to determine who is released from a camp. It incorporates not only the behavior of detainees but also the cooperation of external relatives. "Family members, including you, must comply with state laws and rules, not believe or spread rumors," officials should say. "Only then can you earn points for your family member and, after a trial period, they can leave the school if they meet the course completion standards."
Among the documents, President Xi, head of the Communist Party, does not appear to give direct orders to set up detention centers for Uighur Muslims, but according to the US publication he linked the instability in Xinjiang with the influence of “toxic beliefs”, asking that they were eradicated. In 2014, Xi visited the province weeks after an attack by Uighur militants that left 31 dead and more than 150 injured at a train station. At the time, he advocated a “total effort against terrorism, infiltration and separatism,” using “dictatorship organs” and “showing no mercy.” Terrorist attacks in other parts of the world heightened fears of the Chinese government.
The New York Times report points to small acts of resistance. In 2017, Wang Yongzhi, a local authority in a prefecture in southern Xinjiang, quietly released 7,000 camp inmates of his own free will. As a result, he was taken from his position, prosecuted and considered a "corrupt" employee. "I diminished, acted selectively, and made my own adjustments, believing that bringing so many people together consciously would provoke conflict and deepen resentment," Wang wrote in a signed confession that he may have made under duress. "Without approval and on my own initiative, I broke the rules."
What does the Chinese government say
In response to the New York Times report, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said "preventive" measures in Xinjiang helped prevent terrorist attacks. He did not dispute the authenticity of the documents revealed by the newspaper.