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Calls for Investigation Mount Over Xinjiang Police Files

FILE - A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in Yarkent County in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on March 21, 2021.
FILE - A security person watches from a guard tower around a detention facility in Yarkent County in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on March 21, 2021.

Western governments are demanding that U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet receive full access to sites and individuals in China’s western Xinjiang region following this week’s release of highly detailed reports of rights violations in the region.

“This new reporting further adds to an already damning body of evidence of [China’s] atrocities in Xinjiang,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, who described the photos and other evidence published by an international joint media group as “jarring.”

Speaking at a regular briefing, he said the new reports buttressed previous evidence of abuses in the region, “seen in satellite imagery, and gathered via witness testimony from survivors and escapees of the internment and forced labor camps.”

Price called on China to “immediately release all those arbitrarily detained people; to abolish the internment camps; to end mass detention, torture, forced sterilization, and the use of forced labor.” He said the U.S. will work with allies to “promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities.”

A news consortium this week released the so-called Xinjiang Police Files, a cache of data hacked from police computer servers in the region and provided to the BBC and other global media outlets. The files include over 5,000 photos and documents that show the Chinese government targeting Uyghurs for their ethnicity and Islamic faith.

The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an independent government agency, said the “overwhelming and horrific” evidence can no longer be ignored by international society. It urged the U.N. Commissioner to confront Chinese officials with these new findings.

“Newly released files from a leaked police database highlight the role [Chinese President] Xi Jinping and other top officials had in crafting the genocidal policies employed in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and demonstrate clearly that Turkic Muslims are detained because of their cultural and religious identity and not for any specific criminal actions,” said Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative James P. McGovern, who co-chair the commission, in a formal statement.

The publication of the leaked material coincides with the visit of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to China. Her six-day trip, which ends Saturday, includes the Xinjiang cities of Urumqi and Kashgar, where China has been accused of genocide by the U.S. government and other members of the international community.

Her tour is being conducted within a “closed loop” with no media members allowed to follow, prompting criticism from human rights groups. They worry that Bachelet will be denied full access to sites in Xinjiang and be allowed to see only what the Chinese government wants to portray.

Arslan Hidayat, program manager for Washington, D.C.-based rights organization Campaign for Uyghurs, told VOA that in a visit “which lasts only six days, there’s no way” Bachelet and her U.N. team is going to have fully independent, unfettered access to the Uyghur region.

“We have to be clear that those who do not understand China, there’s no such thing as businesses being fully independent from the Chinese Communist Party, there’s no such thing as a civil society organization being fully independent from [the] Chinese Communist Party,” Hidayat said.

The new disclosures promoted outcry from other Western democracies as well.

In an online meeting this week with Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Yi, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock cited the “new evidence of very serious human rights violations in Xinjiang and called for a transparent investigation,” according to The Associated Press.

“Human rights are a fundamental part of the international order and Germany is committed to protecting them worldwide,” Baerbock said.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the new details of China's human rights violations in Xinjiang and called on China to grant the U.N. team "unfettered access to the region" to conduct “a thorough assessment of the facts on the ground.”

"The U.K. stands with our international partners in calling out China's appalling persecution of Uygur Muslims and other minorities. We remain committed to holding China to account," Truss said in a press release.

China dismissed the new disclosures in Xinjiang as “lies and rumors.”

“(It) is the latest example of the anti-China forces’ smearing of Xinjiang. It is just the same trick they used to play before,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a briefing.

When asked whether Bachelet will get to speak to former “trainees” of the “vocational centers” in Xinjiang, Wang said that China will “facilitate her visit.”

President Xi defended China’s human rights record during a video conference with Bachelet on Wednesday.

“When it comes to human rights issues, there is no such thing as a flawless utopia; countries do not need patronizing lectures; still less should human rights issues be politicized," the state news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

According to U.N. News, Bachelet and her team “have raised serious concerns about the alleged detention and forced labor of Muslim Uyghurs” during their visit to Xinjiang on Wednesday.

Asim Kashgarian contributed to this report.