‘Publicity Gives Us Protection,’ Says Whistle-Blower in China Crackdown

‘Publicity Gives Us Protection,’ Says Whistle-Blower in China Crackdown


In 2009, the year Ms. Abdulaheb left China, ethnic rioting erupted in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, and nearly 200 people were killed, most of them Han. China has cited that bloodshed and a succession of subsequent attacks on Chinese targets to defend its tough policies in Xinjiang.

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 the Netherlands, where Ms. Abdulaheb was raising two children, she began to post criticism of the crackdown on social media this past summer, and started feeling more pressure, including death threats.

Ms. Abdulaheb’s description of harassment and threats, apparently from members of China’s security services, could not be independently verified. Still, her account fit a pattern that other Uighurs abroad have described. They have also recounted threats and pressure coming from China to remain silent or provide information to agents.

Despite such threats, growing numbers of Uighurs and Kazakhs have spoken out, often using Twitter and Facebook to publicize family members in Xinjiang who have disappeared, possibly into re-education camps or prisons.

The quiet campaign against Ms. Abdulaheb, however, seems to have been especially menacing. Ms. Abdulaheb issued an image of one of the documents on Twitter to catch the attention of foreign experts on Xinjiang. But her tweets may have also attracted the unwelcome attention of Chinese security officers.

In an interview Saturday, Mr. Zenz, the researcher, said that “going public makes her safer” from potential retaliation.



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