JARED SIVILA WRITES – The alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang have cast an uneasy shadow over the rest of the world for months, but with the most recent Xinjiang Police File leak leaders all over the world are calling for immediate action and investigation. What makes this leak particularly interesting is the overwhelming photographic images of hundreds of thousands of detained Ugyhurs in the camps.

The January-July 2018 leak contained 5,000 mugshots of teary-eyed or stoic-looking Ugyhurs that commonly mention the “status” of each prisoner, for which punishment remains ambiguous and arbitrary. We discovered this through the inspired work of major global media outlets such as BBC  and a research team of curated researchers from Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), a research nonprofit organization established by former president Bill Clinton based in Washington, D.C. BBC has published hundreds of thousands of mugshots of women, elderly, and child detainees, forming a bleak collage of sadness and emptiness.  According to the VOC, these photos of prisoners in encampments in Xinjiang have been obtained and released through the efforts of an anonymous third party- an individual who hacked computer systems of the Public Security Bureau located in Konashehe, in the Kashgar Prefecture, and Tekes, in the Ili Prefecture.  The very nature in which these records were obtained reveals a lot about the current situation within Xinjiang. The individual who leaked these photos wished to remain anonymous out of concern and fear for his safety. Thousands of records of speeches, mugshots, and personal information of the prisoners had to be encrypted and exchanged in a covert manner.

One such prisoner is Hawagul Tewelkkul, aged 50, an older woman with puffy red eyes, seen crying. Yet no reason is given for her arrest, except that she was detained for “re-education,” as have so many other Uyghur Muslims. Scrolling through the collage one sees that some Uyghurs have been detained for attempting to travel to so-called sensitive countries. In a now deleted tweet, Zheng Zeguang, China’s ambassador to the UK, labeled BBC’s efforts “pathetic for the media,” claiming that these stories are an attempt to spread disinformation about Xinjiang through a fabricated story of detention camps.

There are now calls for probes and investigations from the rest of the world, including countries such as the United States, UK, and Germany. The recent touring visit of United Nations Humans Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to China, extended to Xinjiang in hopes of promoting human rights, might have proven a breakthrough; but many international officials and publications remain skeptical over the government’s control of her itinerary.

Whether you subscribe to the worst speculations of the Western world about Xingjiang, or give credence to the denouncements of these investigations coming from China, re-education centers are clearly emotionally and physically traumatizing for this substantial minority population.   Accountability and responsibility can be resolved later, but for now, the world must express empathy and compassion for victims of displacement.

JARED SIVILA is a staff writer for LMU’s Asia Media International.

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