An Uyghur woman living in the Netherlands has claimed responsibility for leaking the secret documents that detailed operations within “re-education” camps in Xinjiang.
The Chinese documents, allegedly printed in 2017, made headlines in the global community last month after being published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which verified their contents through multiple sources.
The 24-page set of documents revealed inner workings in the controversial facilities, such as rules Uyghur and other ethnic minority “students” must abide by and standards they must meet to “graduate” from their prison-like conditions.
“The guards told me that I must obey every rule at the center,” former detainee Zumrat Dawut, 37, told NBC News. “This was prison. That’s what it was.”
A week after the documents had leaked, Asiye Abdulaheb, an Uyghur woman living in the Netherlands, came forward as a source.
Abdulaheb, 46, is the final link in a short chain of people who found the documents and passed them on, according to Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.
“I posted a screenshot of one of these documents on Twitter, hoping that a journalist or some expert would find me,” she told the outlet.
Despite her “somewhat clumsy” move, Abdulaheb managed to get in touch with German data researcher Adrian Zenz, who has been studying the Xinjiang issue for years.
Abdulaheb, who applied for asylum in the Netherlands in 2009, is now a fully-integrated Dutch citizen. She and her ex-husband, fellow refugee Jasur Abibula, have two children.
Before life in the Netherlands, Abdulaheb functioned within the Chinese political system. She worked for government institutions, while some of her family are members of the ruling Communist Party.
Abdulaheb has not revealed her motives for leaving China, but she is determined to expose the documents at the expense of her own life. She has since received threats, with one of them warning “You’ll end up in pieces in the black garbage bin in your front garden.”
“And I have exactly such a garbage bin. But these documents have to be published, even if it kills me,” she told the Volkskrant.
While Abdulaheb is not afraid of losing her life, she is worried about her family. Aside from threatening messages, she has also received scary phone calls and saw “vague acquaintances” suddenly turn up.
“If something happens to her now, it will become a new story,” Zenz told The New York Times. “Silence would have been so much worse.”
Abdulaheb and her family have since sought protection from the local police. Despite the burden, she is glad to have come forward to help her people.
“I have told everything. My mind is calm now,” she told the Times.
China has since slammed the leaked documents — including a 403-page set exposed earlier by The New York Times — as “fake news” and “underhanded tricks” that sensationalize issues in Xinjiang.
Responding to Abdulaheb’s worries, an editorial piece from the Chinese state-owned Global Times argued that she should instead “be wary of risks from [the] West.”
“If Abdulaheb is worried about her safety, we advise her to guard against U.S. intelligence agencies and extreme Xinjiang secessionist forces. They may exploit her to stir up extreme incidents in order to frame the Chinese government,” the outlet wrote.
“No matter what she has done, we wish that she is safe in the Netherlands. She already jeopardized China’s national interests, and any harm to her safety will not undo the damage. China has no incentive to do any harm to her. But it’s different for U.S. intelligent agencies and Xinjiang secessionist forces. Even in Western media, there may be people who wish to see something happen to her. This is the real risk that Abdulaheb should seriously watch.”
Meanwhile, the regional government in Xinjiang has been deleting data, destroying documents, tightening information control and holding high-level meetings in response to the leaks, four sources with contacts told the Associated Press.
“They became much more serious about the transfer of information,” one claimed.
Many people might not know this, but NextShark is a small media startup that runs on no outside funding or loans, and with no paywalls or subscription fees, we rely on help from our community and readers like you.
Everything you see today is built by Asians, for Asians to help amplify our voices globally and support each other. However, we still face many difficulties in our industry because of our commitment to accessible and informational Asian news coverage.
We hope you consider making a contribution to NextShark so we can continue to provide you quality journalism that informs, educates, and inspires the Asian community. Even a $1 contribution goes a long way. Thank you for supporting NextShark and our community.