An Uighur woman living in the Netherlands is claiming she is the main source of the secret Chinese government documents that shed light on how Beijing runs mass detention camps for Muslim ethnic minorities, which was leaked through some international media outfits last month.
Asiye Abdulaheb, 46, told a Dutch newspaper that she was involved in the release of 24 pages of documents published by Western news outlets last month and was speaking out now to protect relatives from retaliation.
The documents, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and examined by journalists around the world, followed an earlier leak of 403 pages of internal papers to The New York Times that described how authorities created, managed and justified the continuing crackdown on as many as 1 million ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs.
Ms Abdulaheb said she had decided to speak about her involvement in the leak even though it might endanger her or her family.
“I can handle the pressure, but I’m afraid that something will happen to my children and their father,” she told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. “We no longer sleep. We need more protection. Publicity gives us protection.”
Ms Abdulaheb, who speaks Mandarin, said that she had worked for Chinese state institutions and that she moved to the Netherlands in 2009.
In an interview on Saturday, December 07, she confirmed that she received and helped leak the 24 pages, but she did not explain how she obtained the documents.
The Dutch newspaper reported that she had “shaken with nerves” when she acquired the 24 pages of internal Chinese documents on her laptop this year. After she posted a screenshot of one of the documents on Twitter, a German researcher on Xinjiang, China – Mr Adrian Zenz – reached out to her and confirmed the authenticity of the documents.
Those documents were later acquired by various news organisations, though Ms Abdulaheb did not say how.
ICIJ, an independent non-profit based in Washington, later partnered with 17 other organisations, including The New York Times, to publish revelations on internment camps based on the 24-page set of documents.
That article came a week after the Times published a report based on 403 leaked pages that shed light on the origins and expansion of the crackdown in Xinjiang. The Times report said the source of its documents was a member of the Chinese political establishment who requested anonymity.
The two exposes sharpened international debate over the Chinese government’s intense crackdown across the region. Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party has overseen a wave of mass detentions in Xinjiang, driving up to one million members of largely Muslim minority groups, especially Uighurs, into indoctrination camps intended to drastically weaken their religious attachments and make them loyal to the party.
Initially, Chinese officials brushed away questions and reports about the detentions. But late last year, Beijing shifted its response: Chinese authorities have since acknowledged the existence of the programme but defended the camps as job training centres that teach language and practical skills and that also warn people of the dangers of religious extremism.
The leaks have challenged the official Chinese position by revealing the coercive underpinnings of the camps and by hinting at dissent within the Chinese political system over the harsh policies in Xinjiang. Chinese government spokesmen and official media outlets have denounced the reports, calling them “fake news” and claiming they were part of a conspiracy to undermine stability in the region.
In an interview on Saturday, Mr Zenz, the researcher, said that “going public makes her safer” from potential retaliation.
“So if something happens to her now, it will become a new story,” he said. “Silence would have been so much worse.”
Ms Abdulaheb told De Volkskrant that she now wanted to write essays about Uighur history, find work in the Netherlands and improve her Dutch language skills. She also said she felt relieved to have revealed her identity.
“These documents needed to be published,” she said, “even if it means the death of me.” (Source: The Straits Times)