As allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang mount, with a growing number of Western lawmakers accusing China of genocide, Beijing is focusing on discrediting the female Uighur witnesses behind recent reports of abuse.
Chinese officials have named women, disclosed what they say is private medical data and information on the women’s fertility, and accused some of having affairs and one of having a sexually transmitted disease. The officials said the information was evidence of bad character, invalidating the women’s accounts of abuse in Xinjiang.
“To rebuke some media’s disgusting acts, we have taken a series of measures,” Xu Guixiang, the deputy head of Xinjiang’s publicity department, told a December news conference that was part of China’s pushback campaign. It includes hours-long briefings, with footage of Xinjiang residents and family members reading monologues.
A Reuters review of dozens of hours of presentations from recent months and hundreds of pages of literature, as well as interviews with experts, shows a meticulous and wide-reaching campaign that hints at China’s fears that it is losing control of the Xinjiang narrative.
“One reason that the Communist Party is so concerned about these testimonies from women is because it undermines their initial premise for what they’re doing there, which is anti-terrorism,” said James Millward, a professor of Chinese history at Georgetown University and expert in Xinjiang policy.
Uighurs make up most of the million people that a U.N. estimate says have been detained in Xinjiang camps under what the central government calls a campaign against terrorism. Accusations by activists and some Western politicians include torture, forced labour and sterilisations.
China’s foreign ministry on Monday declined to answer questions on the specific information released about the women but said “some anti-China forces ignore facts and truth and wantonly fabricate all kinds of Xinjiang-related lies. People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, including Xinjiang women, live and work in peace and contentment.”
Beijing has rejected calls for an independent U.N. investigation into Xinjiang’s internment programme. Journalists and diplomats have not been permitted access to the camps outside of tightly controlled government tours. Uighurs in Xinjiang have told Reuters they fear reprisals for speaking to the press while in China.
“The biological, the reproductive, the gendered aspect of this is particularly horrifying to the world,” said Georgetown’s Millward. China “seems to have recognised that… You now see them trying in this clumsy way to respond.”
During a regular daily press briefing last week, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin held up images of witnesses who had described sexual abuse in Xinjiang. The account of one of them, he said, was “lies and rumours” because she had not recounted the experience in previous interviews. He gave medical details about the woman’s fertility.
Xinjiang officials in January said a woman who had spoken to foreign media had syphilis, and they showed images of medical records – unsolicited information that was not directly related to her account.
A Xinjiang government official said of another witness last month: “Everyone knows about her inferior character. She’s lazy and likes comfort, her private life is chaotic, her neighbours say that she committed adultery while in China.”
China has declined to provide data on the number of people in the camps. Beijing initially denied the camps existed but now says they are vocational and education centres and that all the people have “graduated”.
This content was originally published here.