Video footage has emerged of what appears to be authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) taking hundreds of ethnic Uyghur inmates off of a train in preparation for their transfer to a detention center in a remote part of the region.
The video, published on Sept. 17 by newly created YouTube account “War on Fear,” whose stated mission is to expose the ramifications of high-tech state surveillance, contains footage purportedly taken last year by a drone camera located in the XUAR’s Bayin’gholin Mongol (in Chinese, Bayinguoleng Menggu) Autonomous Prefecture.
Authorities can be seen leading lines of blindfolded and handcuffed inmates—who have had their heads shaved and are wearing either blue or yellow uniforms—off of a train to a heavily guarded waiting area, where they are sat down in columns before being led off to waiting buses.
British media outlet Sky News on Sunday cited a “European Security source” as saying the video is believed to be authentic because it is “typical of the way the Chinese move this type of prisoner,” and that the footage is likely to have been taken earlier this year.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s international cyber policy center who has previously identified detention sites in the XUAR, said in a series of posts on Twitter over the weekend that he used landmarks and other clues in the footage to verify the video, and believes it was taken northwest of the city of Korla (Kuerle) in August 2018.
If verified, the footage may shed new light on reports by RFA’s Uyghur Service that authorities in the XUAR have been covertly sending detainees to prisons in remote parts of the region and other areas of China to address an “overflow” in overcrowded internment camps, where up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been held since April 2017.
As global condemnation over the camp network has grown, including calls for international observers to be allowed into the XUAR to investigate the situation there, reports suggest that the transfers may be part of a bid to obfuscate the scale of detentions of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the region.
On Monday, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne told news.com.au that she found the video “deeply disturbing” and noted that she had previously raised her country’s concerns over reports of mass detentions in the XUAR.
“We have consistently called for China to cease the arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups,” she said, adding that Australia will continue to raise its concerns “both bilaterally and in relevant international meetings.”
Speaking to RFA on Monday, Dolkun Isa, the president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group, called the video “hard evidence of China transferring Uyghur detainees en mass” and likened it to Nazi Germany’s detention of Jews in concentration camps during World War II.
“It’s clear that ‘Never Again’ is happening again in the 21st century, under the watch of the international community, despite promises to prevent such tragedies,” he said, urging world leaders to speak out against China’s policies in the XUAR at the Sept. 17-30 United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“I call on the United Nations, United States, European Union, and Turkic and Muslim countries to take a strong stand at the U.N. General Assembly and condemn China’s crimes against humanity in East Turkestan, table urgent resolutions in order to close all Chinese concentration camps, and release all Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims,” he added, using the Uyghurs’ name for the XUAR.