The Xinjiang Police Files Are Actually Boring: Zenz’s Reality Warping
Written By: Yin Sura Published: 12/06/2022
On May 24 2022, Western anti-China forces coalesced once again to carry on a smear campaign against China on its alleged mistreatments of Uyghurs, the predominantly Muslim Turkic minority living in Xinjiang; China’s westernmost region. This sudden media furore really came as no surprise against the backdrop of the visit in Xinjiang of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
It began after the BBC and other Western media outlets started to hype up a trove of documents, that were purportedly hacked from computer servers operated by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) of the counties of Konasheher (shufu xian 疏附县) and Tekes (tekesi xian 特克斯县) in Xinjiang. The anonymous third party then allegedly handed the leaked documents over to US-based scholar Adrian Zenz, who works at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
The documents dubbed ‘Xinjiang Police Files’ (XPF) for the occasion, have been presented as further evidence of the repression of Uyghurs by the Chinese government and still continue to reverberate. Just recently, EU lawmakers passed a landslide vote in favour of a resolution to state that China’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang hold a “serious risk of genocide”, and the XPF were invoked to justify the push for such a [non-binding] motion.
The XPF also leaked thousands of photos of alleged detainees — taken between 2017 and 2018 — with vague information attached or sometimes without. Western journalists cunningly cherry-picked the few most emotionally stirring photos in order to attract maximum attention and arouse emotions, such as those of teenage girls and one of a 50-years-old woman with prominent watering eyes.
The goal of this article is to conduct an in-depth review of the available evidence presented in the Xinjiang Police Files documents (XPF) as well as in an explanatory research paper from Zenz; the article also rebuts multiple misinterpretations and distortions of the facts that were conveyed to the wider audience.
Obfuscating origins and geography
People like Zenz in general remain ambiguous on the word ‘Chinese’ and do not specify wether they mean Chinese nationals or people of a certain ethnicity in China. This ambivalence helps them shape a gloomy narrative about Xinjiang, a region which is essentially a patchwork of different minorities that are distributed unevenly across different areas.
Most importantly, Shufu and Tekes Counties, from where photos and documents were stolen, are located in southern Xinjiang where Uyghurs make up 90% of the population. So there’s nothing extraordinary in that they make up most of the XPF alleged detainees. Adrian Zenz and Western journalists often refer to the “Xinjiang police” or the “Chinese police” in their articles, but miserably fail to promote a comprehensive view which is that Uyghurs constitute large swathes of Xinjiang’s security personnel — something corroborated by numerous images available in the XPF.
In perhaps the most eerie statement of all, Zenz also claims that “Uyghurs are treated as enemies of the state” and are ‘“labelled as dangerous or extremists”, and therefore raises disturbing parallels with the paranoid perception of Jews in Germany prior to the Holocaust. This innuendo that China would harbor similar genocidal intentions as Nazi Germany’s is grotesque, merely because Uyghurs are part of “the state” too, and only depicts Zenz’s reality-warped Xinjiang. Alas, he and his likes seem to be blinkered, so much so that they are simply unable to appreciate Uyghurs’ willingness to drastically curb the rampant religious extremism that once plunged their region into turmoil.
As a matter of facts, it is said in Zenz’s paper that 258 of the 280 (92%) auxiliary guards of the Konasheher New Vocational Skills Education and Training Centre (VSETC) were Uyghurs. Likewise, the New VSETC police staffing spreadsheet shows that 24 of the 54 formally employed police and 7 of the 25 special police or duty officers were Uyghurs. The second highest officer of the New VSETC, Memetsalijan Seley, was also Uyghur.
Adrian Zenz admits it in his research paper but almost never mentions that sheer fact in his mainstream communication, something which the BBC also gladly omits by putting the blame on “China” and “the police”.
Conversely, a brief review of the images enables us to see some Han detainees inside the Tekes Detention Center. We also have the luxury to glimpse signs in Uyghur language using the Arabic script, a head-on insult to the Western narrative of ‘cultural genocide’ and prohibition of the Uyghur language.
Uyghurs can easily be singled out due to their Central Asian/European facial features, even more so in southern Xinjiang where they have 60% of admixture from European ancestry and 40% of East Asian ancestry, while the admixture from European ancestry drops significantly to 30% for Uyghurs living in northern Xinjiang, where more interactions occurred between Hans and Uyghurs.
At the end, this little confusion creates a false impression that Hans would be persecuting Uyghurs. At least that is what could be construed by a layman who would unintentionally interchange “China” with “Hans”.
It’s absolutely mind-blowing that nobody noticed the many Uyghurs working in the VSETCs and in the detention centres. How could Uyghurs countenance the use of vocational and detention facilities if it was discriminatory toward them and if they were not actively engaged stakeholders as well ?
Zenz also notes that Konasheher’s combined per capita internment/imprisonment rate was over 64 times higher than China’s national imprisonment rate and that 12.3% of the county’s adults were interned. This sensational assertion is nonsense, firstly because it’s absurd to compare provincial imprisonment rates with country-wide imprisonment rates. Moreover, Konasheher’s imprisonment rate must be much lower, as Zenz’s trick of manipulating the data considers all vocational students detainees.
Vocational training centers are places where students take classes in China’s law, Mandarin Chinese language classes, vocational skill training, etc. Many Western journalists have already visited them in the past although their reports were outrageously biased and dishonest.
Overall, Xinjiang’s imprisonment rate surged to its highest level in 2017 and steadily decreased afterwards to eventually stabilize at ordinary levels, comparatively far lower than rates of imprisonment of indigenous people in Australia and Canada.
Vocational training centre or detention centre
China’s white paper says vocational training centres exist to “provide individuals educational and economic opportunities”; “and to support young people in gaining access to continued learning and vocational resources, and in incubating their entrepreneurial talent”. Hence, achieving poverty alleviation is seen as the best cure to eradicate the conditions that enable terrorism and religious extremism.
However this time, Western media have particularly focused energy on sparking controversy on Xinjiang’s vocational training centres, in order to discredit China’s official narrative. A lot of attention was drawn to Uyghur guards and police officers carrying out security drills. This is where the word “camp” — which is used quite extensively —becomes a convenient catch-all term for people like Zenz, effectively drawing a murky line between vocational training centres and detention centres. BBC even goes on to say that VSETCs have been rebranded into detention centres.
For example, on the wall in the image of Figure 2, we can clearly read “新疆监管”, which could be translated into “Xinjiang Prison” and the yellow suit worn by the person arrested is the standard prisoner’s yellow suit in all over China. Meanwhile, Zenz still unfairly calls Tekes Detention Center a “re-education camp”.
After sieving through the XPF photos of police operations, one can simply ascertain that these exercises — sometimes necessitating the use of firearms — were not conducted inside VSETCs, but rather inside detention centres or outside.
Spooking readers with guns
In order to vilify Xinjiang’s VSETCs and strip them of their vocational aura, Zenz and Western journalists inundate us with loads of images of police weaponry, police PowerPoints featuring guns and rifles, etc. Do they expect to capitalize on people’s aversion to gun violence to lure us into their narrative ? It may well not work if you manage to notice the keys and sneakers on the police officers, and the empty magazines on their rifles, all indicating that they were performing security drills.
Zenz also argues that the VSETC security personnel used assault rifles and practiced a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. For example, he posits that the four circled compounds inside Konasheher New VSETC would be four watchtowers from where watchtower guards were to be armed with QBU-88 sniper rifles and had to shoot escapees dead according to a document’s specification. Similarly, the VSETC police forces would use the QBZ-95 assault rifle according to Tekes VSETC police instructions.
Nevertheless, the XPF fail to prove this putative ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy that would have been conducted inside the VSETCs with graphic evidence.
In their reporting, Western media shamefully whitewashed the crimes of Yusup Ismayil by telling a false story.
According to Chinese media, Yusup was a member of the terrorist group ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) and Reuters reported that he was wanted by police for making explosives. In so doing, they abet the perpetrators of horrific crimes.
Indeed, they said that he was sentenced for visiting a so-called “sensitive location”, which in fact always turns out to be Turkey. It is well known that Turkey serves as a forward base for Uyghur hardline separatists, to conduct nefarious activities against China with the tacit support of Pan-Turkic nationalists. It’s also a hotbed for religious extremists from where thousands of Uyghur jihadists were deployed in neighbouring Syria. Actually, Zenz hints at this in his article, when he writes that Memetsalijan Seley refers to fellow Uyghurs who believe in the independence of East Turkestan as “scumbags” and traitors.
He also cites Omer Bekri, who has been inciting and instigating others to join terrorist organizations. He spent $22,000 on supporting the foreign “jihad” warriors in June 2006. Most logically, his visa application was rejected by the U.S. consulate in Istanbul despite Congress’s invitation.
Extrapolating flawed data
According to the website of the XPF, the sociological structure of the detainees can be sorted as follows :
- Women : 416/2884 (14.4%)
- Men : 2587/2884 (89.7%)
- +60 : 86/2884 (2.9%)
- -30 : 2226/2884 (77.1%)
It is very peculiar that the maths don’t add up for the gender here, but it hasn’t stopped Western media to flout the numbers and percentages by laser focusing on elderly women, whereas men overwhelmingly form the greater part of the photoset.
Among the detainees, I found that 1818/3238 (56.1%) were in so-called “Re-education”. Once again the discrepancy in the numbers is unsettling. Let’s recall that such terminology is used to append a genocidal undertone to Xinjiang’s VSETCs. So 56.1% of the XPF detainees were just VSETCs graduate students. By contrast, 1043/3238 (32.2%) were in prison or in detention.
So what is even remarkable in that police documents contain approximately 3,000 photos of people, most of them young males under 30, and who only 1/3 of them were detained in 2017-2018? Why making so much ado for photos taken between 2017 and 2018, whereas VSETC students must all have graduated since then and must probably be working now ?
With all this in mind, it’s frankly difficult to figure out how the XPF would “add to the evidence on the PRC’s mass coercive internment campaign”, as evoked in the latest European Parliament’s motion for a resolution to designate human rights conditions in Xinjiang as ‘genocide’.
Zenz has not disclosed the documents for each individual of the photoset. Why? It’s therefore impossible to verify them.
Although many documents may be genuine, many questions still hang over the authenticity of the XPF ‘key documents’ that were made available. It’s sure that they are not genuine and that they were modified by the president of the Uyghur American Association Ilshat Kobor as well as by Adrian Zenz; as per the metadata information.
Most suspiciously, someone removed metadata information from the files soon thereafter many netizens started to comment about this find. Luckily, you can still access them by using the Wayback machine.
Additional grammar mistakes buttress the argument that the ‘key documents’ may have been engineered. In the image of Figure 14, these are phrases [circled in red] used as ‘nouns’ in Chinese documents, rather than as stand-alone sentences. A quick search shows that they always appear within a sentence, often followed by ‘落实情况’.
A few glitches on some photos also raise suspicion. Some people argue that parts of the photoset could have been AI-generated and the glitches would be typical of GAN-training artifacts.
The presence of clothing patterns within the photoset is equally curious. One possibility could be that police officer handed out clothes to make police mugshots, but the use of a counterfeit brand [in one of the pattern] by a Police Security Bureau is difficult to believe, as the brand 360° doesn’t exist in China, but 361° does. Could it be another error related to GAN image generation?
After all, Zenz is known to manipulate data to such the extent that he already wrote daffy assertions in the past, such that the Chinese government inserted between 800 and 1400 IUDs per capita each year in Xinjiang. A statement which he has quietly walked back since as he updated his report. So everything remains possible with him behind the wheel.