Lost Relatives, Friends Found in Xinjiang Photos

A mystery has finally been solved for Anwar, a Uyghur American, says Voice of America (VOA) while reporting on the fall-out of what have come to be known as Xinjiang Police Files. 

Anwar wants only his first name be used for fear of “too much political attention”.

He had been ‘unable to speak or even just communicate’ with his family in Xinjiang for five years. Then, he saw his cousin’s mugshot in the Xinjiang Police Files, documents and images leaked from within China and released to the public in May by the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and news media.

‘I could only hope and pray for the best as I sat combing through each picture of the leaked Xinjiang Police Files,’ Anwar said.

After spending hours combing through countless images, Anwar found the face of his cousin, Arzugul Abdurehim, now 42, in the files.

“Anger, frustration, despair and anguish all bubbled up within me as I looked upon the mugshot of my cousin; I could tell she was handcuffed”, he said. “We had grown up together, and to me, she was my little sister. She was just a typical Uyghur mother, caring for her children and trying to provide them with the best”.

Anwar’s cousin was 39 when she was arrested for “re-education” in 2018, according to the Xinjiang Police Files.

Anwar believes his cousin’s crime was “her identity, that she is Uyghur”.

These pictures are only from 2018. The genocide has only gotten worse since then. I hope my other family members and loved ones are alive, said Anwar.

Mehmet Ali Sultan

Mehmet Ali Sultan, a naturalized Uyghur American who has lived in the United States since 2011, also sifted through photos from the Xinjiang Police Files and saw familiar faces of Uyghur detainees from his hometown of Konasheher county. He found out his former high school classmate, Metyar Ghopur, was detained in 2017 by Chinese authorities.

“If it weren’t for the leaked files, I would not have been able to learn of the arbitrary detention of my friend and former classmate”, Sultan said in a phone interview with VOA.

“I filtered my search to only people over 30, saw a face I hadn’t seen in over a decade, and recognized him immediately”, Sultan said.

Ghopur’s ‘crimes’ are described as ‘type II,’ ‘terrorism-involved capital,’ and ‘digging deep into the frame line. ‘

“When I recognized his face, I was shaking and could barely hold back my tears”, Sultan said.

The data within the files

Ghopur’s and Abdurehim’s images are two of thousands of photos taken at police stations and detention centers, including mugshots of more than 2,800 detainees.

The cache of information hacked from a network of computers within Xinjiang is described by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation as the “largest and most significant leak” so far.

The youngest Uyghur detainee in the files was 14-year-old girl when she was detained and the oldest, 73 years old.

In addition to photos, the leaked files include documents and speeches related to the Chinese government’s mass detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, leaked to one of the foundation’s researchers, Adrian Zenz.

The foundation says the information has been authenticated and peer-reviewed by teams of researchers and investigative journalists.

“The person who unexpectedly reached out to the author to provide the files acted on a solely individual basis, attached no conditions to their provision or publication, and wishes to remain anonymous due to personal safety concerns”, according to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation website.

Xinjiang Police Files revealed classified speeches by senior Chinese officials, internal police documents about protecting the detention camps, or what China’s state media describes as vocational education and training centers.

A rule at the centers if ‘students’ try to escape is to fire warning shots and then ‘shoot (them) dead’ if they fail to comply, according to police documents from the leaked files.

Beijing, through its state media, has said in the past that the centers help students with their Mandarin language skills and give them vocational training. One center was described as similar to boarding schools where ‘students here go to class, play sports, and they go home once a week,’ reported state broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN) in 2019.

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation said the Xinjiang Police Files provided “a ground-breaking inside view of the nature and scale of Beijing’s secretive campaign of interning between 1-2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic citizens in China’s north-western Xinjiang region”.

“This is an unprecedented cache of documents directly from Xinjiang police computer servers”, said Andrew Bremberg, president of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and former U. S. ambassador to the UN.

“This was a hack, in fact not a leak, that someone kind of smuggled out but a hack of tens of thousands of documents that provide the most in-depth understanding of what is actually happening in Xinjiang over the last several years”, Bremberg told VOA.

 -Courtesy: VOA