A leak of files attributed to Chinese police, including thousands of photos of detainees including women, minors and the elderly, sheds a harsh light on the plight of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
These documents are published Tuesday by a group of 14 international media, including the French daily Le Monde, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, begins a long-awaited visit to this vast region of the Northwestern China.
They were handed over by an anonymous source to German researcher Adrian Zenz, the first to accuse the Chinese regime in 2018 of having interned more than a million Uyghurs in political re-education centers.
Beijing has always denied this figure, denouncing "the lie of the century" and claiming that these sites are in fact "vocational training centers" intended to deradicalize people tempted by Islamism or separatism, after a series of attacks which bloodied the region.
But the documents published on Tuesday tend to prove that the presence of "trainees" in these centers is not voluntary. They are “ripping apart the veneer of Chinese propaganda,” Mr Zenz told the BBC.
More than 2.800 mugshots of detainees include that of Zeytunigul Ablehet, a 17-year-old girl arrested for listening to a banned speech, and 16-year-old Bilal Qasim, apparently convicted for his links with other prisoners.
A haggard and emaciated woman named Anihan Hamit, 73 at the time of her arrest, is the oldest on the list.
Another image shows baton-wielding guards apparently practicing to subdue a chained prisoner.
Written documents support the idea of an orderly repression from the top of the Chinese state.
A speech attributed to Minister of Police Zhao Kezhi in 2018 explains that President Xi Jinping ordered the expansion of detention centers.
According to Zhao, at least two million people in southern Xinjiang are "seriously influenced by the infiltration of extremist thought".
The Uyghurs form almost the majority of the population of Xinjiang (26 million inhabitants).
In a 2017 speech, Chen Quanguo, then the area's boss, ordered guards to shoot anyone who tried to escape and "closely monitor believers".
Beijing flatly rejected Adrian Zenz's findings.
They are only “the latest example of the denigration of Xinjiang carried out by anti-Chinese forces”, blasted Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for Chinese diplomacy, on Tuesday.
The editorial staff (with AFP)