The hundreds of Uighur men sit in rows, bound and blindfolded, as they await the next move. One by one they are hauled to their feet by guards and then moved on to awaiting trains. The video, recorded in secret by a drone, was shown yesterday morning to the Chinese ambassador on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Apparently somewhat taken aback, Liu Xiaoming’s immediate reaction was to claim that it was a routine prison transfer, or even fake. “I do not know where you got this videotape,” he said. “Sometimes you have a transfer of prisons and prisoners, in any country.” He then accused the West of “making false accusations against China”.
The Chinese government has repeatedly denied that it has mistreated the Uighurs, the ethnic Muslims of Xinjiang, despite growing evidence that it has locked up more than a million in “re-education camps” and is sterilising women. Exiled Uighurs are seeking an investigation by the International Criminal Court, alleging genocide and crimes against humanity.
Chinese ambassador confronted with drone footage that shows Uighurs being blindfolded and led to trains
Evidence is hard to come by because of Beijing’s grip on the province, which has made independent reporting from inside almost impossible. The video’s provenance, however, appears beyond dispute. It surfaced in September on social media, with a title stating that it was “taken in China and concerned the situation in Xinjiang”.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, set about verifying its authenticity. By drawing on clues from the buildings, the cell tower, the car park, train tracks and trees, he was able to conclude that the video was shot at a railway station near Korla, Xinjiang’s second city, in August 2018.
In early October last year there were reports that the authorities planned to re-appropriate railways to move Muslims en masse to ease overcrowding at Korla’s detention facilities. Such reports served to collaborate the video’s authenticity by suggesting that moving detainees via railway was a practice in Xinjiang.
Foreign researchers examined satellite images and government procurement documents to establish that the Chinese authorities were building detention centres throughout the region from the spring of 2017. One of them is Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in the United States. It was his research that uncovered evidence of birth prevention and forced sterilisation of Uighurs.
Mr Ruser, who retweeted the BBC clip of the interview with Mr Liu, called the ambassador’s response “pure and simple obfuscation designed to mislead the public”.