The Associated Press reported on Thursday that it had obtained a document that reveals that videos of Uighurs denying human rights violations in China are part of a government campaign, raising questions about the will of the filmed.
Uighurs are a Chinese ethnic minority of Muslim origin. The Chinese government is accused of orchestrating a campaign of mass detention, cultural destruction and forced assimilation of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities native to the Xinjiang region, in the far northwest of the country.
This year, the Chinese state press published dozens of videos of Uighurs denouncing former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for declaring genocide in the region.
The videos, which the authorities insist are spontaneous expressions of emotion, were also broadcast during government press conferences held for the foreign press.
But the text obtained by the AP is the first indication that the videos are programmed.
Sent in January to the Karamay city government in northern Xinjiang, the text asked officials to find a Uighur fluent in Mandarin, with a view to shooting a one-minute video in response to Pompeo’s “anti-China comments”.
“Express a clear position on Pompeo’s comments, for example: I strongly oppose and am very angry with Pompeo’s anti-China comments,” reads the text, quoted by the AP. “Express your feelings of love for the Party, the country and Xinjiang (I am Chinese, I love my mother country, I am happy at work and in life)”, he adds.
While it is not discardable that the authorities found Uighurs willing to participate in the public relations campaign, China’s history in Xinjiang and documented abuses have led many experts to conclude that participation is more likely to have been forced.
The meaning is that there is concrete evidence that the Chinese government is requesting this type of video “, said Albert Zhang, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, who recently co-authored a report on Beijing’s disinformation campaign in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang’s spokesman, Xu Guixiang, did not directly deny the authenticity of the text, but said he did not follow the format of state orders and that his understanding is that the “Government has never issued this type of notification or made such a request. “, suggesting that the videos were made voluntarily.
This did not require governmental organization. Many people did it completely spontaneously “said Xu. “Pompeo’s anti-China comments have generated intense resentment among various ethnic groups in Xinjiang.”
Western governments have imposed sanctions against top Chinese officials, while the US government has banned imports of cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang, citing concerns about forced labor.
Tahir Imin, a Uighur activist who fled China in 2017, said the videos are almost certainly orchestrated and made under duress, as information about Xinjiang is heavily censored.
People don’t know who Pompeo is or what he’s saying “, notou Imin.
“How is it possible that they knew what Mike Pompeo is saying about Uighurs,” he asked, referring to China’s censorship of politically sensitive information.
The AP obtained the text from Firdavs Drinov, an ethnic Kazakh man, who says he accessed the documents from a friend whose family members work for the government in Karamay.
Three days after sharing the texts, the police arrested Drinov and his friend.
The Xinjiang government confirmed that Drinov was arrested, alleging that he is suspected of “fabricating and spreading false information” and “poisoning and bewitching ignorant groups and instigating separatism”.
Referring to Drinov by his legal Mandarin name, Chen Haoyu, he said he is awaiting trial in a detention center and that his “rights will be protected according to the law”.
Drinov is a linguist who dreamed of obtaining a doctorate in the United States, despite never having completed a college degree. Fluent in Mandarin, English, Uzbek, Uighur, Russian and French, he trained to represent China at the 2015 International Linguistics Olympics.
Drinov maintains an open presence on banned social networks in China, such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, and has had problems with authorities before.
In December 2019, he was placed in a detention center for 15 days for “causing confusion and trouble”, a vague accusation often used in political cases.
Experts say the Uighur videos commissioned by the authorities are part of a state-coordinated disinformation campaign to whiten its policies in Xinjiang.
Dozens of new Twitter and Tiktok accounts broadcast videos. Some of those accounts are intended to be managed by Uighurs from Xinjiang, although the simple installation of those applications served as an excuse to stop Uighurs.
The reports promote the lush landscapes of Xinjiang, with its snow-capped mountains, depicting an idyllic and carefree life, at odds with the reports of hundreds of Uighurs and Kazakhs who have fled the region in recent years.
The report by Zhang’s Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that some of the videos were produced by a company founded by the Xinjiang government.
I find it interesting the amount of resources that the Chinese government is willing to use to produce this content and disseminate it, “said Zhang.” The scale and persistence are new and worrying “, he considered.
Many videos broadcast by Uighurs on social media have been shared by new accounts, opened by Chinese authorities and state media in recent years.
China has a very different reaction to academics and activists who use social media to research or speak out against the situation in Xinjiang.
Nyrola Elimä, a Uighur who lives in Sweden, said that after spreading information on Twitter about her cousin’s arrest, the police knocked on her mother’s door in Xinjiang, with the printed messages, threatening to arrest her if her daughter did not delete. .