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Leak Of Classified Chinese Documents Adds New Detail To How Uighurs Have Been Detained


New details have surfaced this week spelling out how the Chinese government has been monitoring and detaining Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. That's a region in northwestern China. These details appear in a trove of leaked classified Chinese government documents - operations manuals, intelligence briefings - all of which were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. One of their reporters is with us now - Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.


BETHANY ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: It's great to be here, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I first want to get at how these documents advance what we already know about what's been happening in Xinjiang. We know that possibly more than a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have spent time in detention. We know that the Chinese government has gone to great lengths, using technology to monitor this population. What new details do these documents provide us on what the Chinese government has been doing?

ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: They give us new details about what's happening inside the camps specifically, especially in terms of the measures that Chinese authorities have taken to make sure the camps stay secret. And some of our other documents give us new insight into what exactly all that surveillance was for. It's being fed into a database that's then used to round up people it deems suspicious on a mass scale.

CHANG: A database that includes biodata - their DNA, their names, their relations, et cetera.

ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: That's right, and including information that was sent to that database via China's embassies and consulates abroad.

CHANG: What kind of guidelines did you see spelled out in the operations manual for how these camps should run? Just give us a couple of brief examples.

ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: It shows a very regimented, strict life for the inmates at the camps, including tight regulations on when they're allowed to use the toilet, where they're allowed to sleep and total secrecy.

CHANG: What struck me about these new documents is how precise and thoroughly systematic all of this was. I mean, this was a very, very intricate plan. Is this the closest glimpse we have of the Chinese government's intentions?

ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: Yes. I think it shows Chinese authorities had a very clear idea of the scale at which they were building these camps and of the danger that they were putting many human lives in. It also shows a cold, calculated, almost machine-like attitude towards how to detain people by the thousands and tens of thousands.

CHANG: In response to this reporting, the Chinese government called these leaked documents, quote, "pure fabrication and fake news." What do you have to say about that?

ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: The documents came to us through a very careful and verified chain of transmission. If you look at the documents themselves, they conform to every template of classified Chinese government documents that is available. And classified Chinese government documents follow a very, very regimented kind of layout, and these documents match that 100%.

CHANG: Well, I guess the big question for me is, what happens now? We have these documents that, if you are correct, are straight from the government, spelling out in great detail the detention, the indoctrination and the mass surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. How do you think the U.S. can have more influence on this particular issue?

ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: Think about what we did after Tiananmen. There was a wide range of sanctions. And China became, at least temporarily, a pariah in the international community. What we're seeing in Xinjiang deserves exactly that response because what's happening in Xinjiang isn't staying in Xinjiang. China is actively exporting its surveillance systems around the world through its Safe Cities (ph) projects and other ways. It's so important that the United States deploy every tool at its disposal from sanctions, from diplomatic pressure, from multi-lateral, you know, diplomatic campaigns to put pressure on the Chinese government. We have seen very few of those measures being taken.

CHANG: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is an investigative journalist with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Thank you very much for coming in today.

ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.