The leak of hundreds of pages of documents detailing a crackdown on ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) ordered by President Xi Jinping has spurred calls for global action to hold Beijing accountable for the abuses.
On Saturday, The New York Times published a 403-page trove of documents it said were released by someone within the “Chinese political establishment” that told of how Xi called for an “all-out ‘struggle against terrorism, infiltration, and separatism’ using the ‘organs of dictatorship,’” in internal speeches following an attack by Uyghur militants that killed more than 30 people at a train station in 2014.
Xi, who visited the XUAR weeks after the attack, urged officials to show “absolutely no mercy” in stamping out Islamic extremism in the region, where authorities are believed to have detained up to 1.5 million people accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.
While it was unclear how the documents, commonly referred to as the “Xinjiang Papers,” were selected, the Times said that the leak came from an official who requested anonymity and expressed hope that their disclosure would hold party leaders, including Xi, accountable for policies in the region.
“The international community no longer has an excuse to stay silent. The documents reveal a premeditated policy from the highest levels of the Chinese government to eradicate our identity,” World Uyghur Congress (WUC) President Dolkun Isa said this week.
The WUC noted in a statement that the documents advance understanding of what is taking place in the remote and closed-off XUAR and “continue to contradict much of what the Chinese government claims in public about their policies towards the Uyghur population.”
“The documents must serve as a basis for the international community to take concrete steps to push back against widespread rights abuses,” said the WUC.
“This may include economic sanctions and import controls, an expedited asylum process for Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims outside of China, and more vocal calls from states for China to allow independent observers access to the Uyghur region,” it added.
Representative Ilhan Omar called the documents “a chilling portrait of the Chinese government’s campaign of mass detention and ethnic cleansing of Uighurs.”
“The world can no longer look away,” she tweeted this week. “We must hold all officials responsible for this fully accountable.”
Andrew Yang, a candidate in Democratic Party primary contest, told the Council on Foreign Relations in a survey of candidates’ positions on China that “the treatment of the Uighurs in China is unacceptable, and we need to be a part of the chorus of voices across the world calling the situation out for what it is.”
Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish Times said the Xinjiang leak “should stir the world into action” after too long a silence.
“Shamefully, despite mounting evidence in recent years of the brutal campaign being waged by Beijing in Xinjiang, the rest of the world has shown itself incapable of speaking up on the crisis, largely for fear of Chinese economic retaliation,” said the daily.
“The longer that silence continues, the worse it will get for the people of Xinjiang,” it added.
Several U.S. lawmakers have cited the report in renewing calls for passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act—passed by the Senate and under debate in the House of Representatives—that would appoint a special State Department coordinator on the XUAR and require regular reports on the camps, the surveillance network and the security threats posed by the crackdown.
A related effort by U.S. lawmakers calls for the imposition sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, crafted initially to deal with rights abuses in Russia, on XUAR Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and other Chinese officials leading the repression of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the region.
Calling the report “the face of cultural genocide,” the Washington Post noted that the motive of the person who leaked the documents was described by the New York Times as someone hoping to make sure Xi and the leadership are held to account.
“The world must not let this whistleblower down,” said the Post.