Dutch Uighur Asiye Abdulaheb is facing death threats after she exposed Chinese state secrets about infamous Xinjiang Uighur camps. According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the documents “uncovered the surveillance and mass internment without charge of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang province.” Volkskrant reports for her effort, the 46-year-old activist has received online threats such as, “Stop it, otherwise you’ll end up cut into pieces in the black [trash bin] in your front yard.”
Volkskrant describes the 24-page document which Abdulaheb found and published in part to Twitter as a “game-changer for the Uighurs” and “a bomb” which “undermines the official reading of the Chinese government”; the news source explains, “Beijing presents the camps as benign ‘training centers’ where Uighurs and other Muslims are ‘cured’ of extremist thoughts on a voluntary basis. The documents read…as a manual for a prison camp.”
The Uighurs are Islamic people from the Xinjiang province in western China – an area known to Uighur activists as East Turkestan. Large numbers of Uighurs began to disappear in 2014 as Beijing claimed that “without measures, this will become a Chinese version of the Islamic State.” Admittedly sporadic evidence causes human rights organizations to estimate the camps are holding up to a million people.
Volkskrant writes that Xinjiang is home to 12 million Uighurs and other Muslims who are scrutinized by “a special computer program that is fed with overwhelming amounts of data” to search for ‘problem cases’ within that population. People can be deemed suspect for watching religious videos on their phones, using software to bypass internet censorship or having family abroad. One of the documents identifies 24,412 “problem cases”. Volkskrant reports, “Of these, 15,683 went to a ‘training center’, 706 to a police cell and more than 2,000 were placed under ‘preventative surveillance’. This was only the yield of a single week, in June 2017.”
The leaked documents allegedly feature “bureaucratic jargon” in the state’s voice which “tells how ‘problem cases’ are traced and locked up.” ICIJ reports the documents included “a secret operations manual for the internment camps as well as details of the Chinese government’s surveillance program that monitored civilians living in Xinjiang.” Beijing brands the documents as “fake news” and “malicious anti-Chinese propaganda”.
After Abdulaheb posted the excerpts online, the documents were noticed by more than 75 journalists from ICIJ and 17 partner media organizations in 14 countries, the New York Times, and advocates like German data researcher Adrian Zenz – who collectively made the documents world news.
According to the Volkskrant, shortly thereafter the US Senate began “rapidly adopting a bill providing for sanctions against Chinese politicians responsible for the camps.”
Volkskrant describes passing Chinese state secrets as “extremely risky,” quoting American anthropologist and Xinjiang specialist Darren Byler as saying, “Uighurs who have this type of document may face the death penalty.”
While Abdulaheb tells the Volkskrant she trusts the Dutch police and “her heart feels lighter” since publishing the documents, her former husband Jasur Abibula says, “we no longer sleep. We need more protection.” When he learned the content of the pieces shared by Abdulaheb, he considered fleeing to the US, saying, “The Netherlands is so small, where can I hide?”
Volkskrant writes that, since 2011, the annual reports of the Dutch security service AIVD have mentioned the “infiltration of the Uighur community in the Netherlands” as a concern.