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19 Oct 2019 15:02
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  •   Home > News > International

    'Deeply disturbing' footage surfaces of blindfolded Uyghurs at train station in Xinjiang

    The footage purportedly shows hundreds of freshly-shaven Uyghur men blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs during a mass transfer at a train station in the north-west region of China.

    Australia's Foreign Minister and members of the Uyghur community have condemned a "deeply disturbing" and "horrifying" video of Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang that has surfaced online.

    The footage purportedly shows dozens of Uyghur men — their heads freshly shaved —blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs during a mass transfer at a train station in the north-west region of China.

    The video, posted to YouTube last week anonymously by War on Fear, has been verified as authentic by Nathan Ruser, a satellite analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

    Mr Ruser said by zooming in on Google Earth details like the shadow cast from a pole or the planting of bushes, he could determine the footage was shot in either April or August in 2018 at a train station west of the city of Korla.

    "Through all of those methods I was able to basically verify that that video is legitimate," he told the ABC.

    "It very clearly demonstrates that the impression of Xinjiang that China's trying to give the world isn't true.

    "They take journalists and diplomats on very guided, very manicured tours around the region, to particular camps to highlight what they call progress and human rights in the region.

    "However, this video undercuts that narrative and shows clearly the very inhumane treatment that detained individuals get in the system, in the crackdown that started in 2017 in western China."

    A report from Sky News also cited an unnamed European security source identifying the footage as legitimate.

    China maintains its treatment of Uyghurs — a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority — is necessary to counter terrorism and extremism.

    The Chinese Government has repeatedly denied its detention facilities are "concentration camps" and said they equate to boarding schools and vocational training centres.

    The United Nations has said there are credible reports that at least 1 million Uyghurs are detained in Xinjiang's "re-education" camps.

    The writing on the prisoners' vests refers to "Kashgar" — the city in Xinjiang — leading Mr Ruser to believe the detainees were being transferred from a detention centre in Kashgar to a new facility near Korla, about 1,000 kilometres away.

    "All the evidence points to this being standard practice in how this crackdown is being perpetrated. And it's a very shocking visual reminder of that," he said.

    Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne described the video as "deeply disturbing".

    "I am aware of the deeply disturbing video that has been published online," she said in a statement.

    "I have previously raised Australia's concerns about reports of mass detentions of Uyghurs and other Muslim peoples in Xinjiang.

    "We have consistently called for China to cease the arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups. We have raised these concerns — and we will continue to raise them — both bilaterally and in relevant international meetings."

    China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its embassy in Australia did not respond to the ABC's requests for comment.

    In a press briefing Monday evening, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was not questioned directly about the video but responded to the United States' criticism of China's actions in Xinjiang.

    "The US has tried to smear and vilify China's policy in Xinjiang time and again in a gross attempt to interfere in China's internal affairs," Mr Geng said.

    "Facts can prove that these measures have produced visible outcomes. Xinjiang now enjoys social stability, sound economic momentum, and harmony between ethnic groups. It has not seen a single terrorist attack in the past three years.

    "These measures are no different in nature from the de-radicalisation and preventive counter-terrorism measures taken by many other countries."

    'It's chilling and very horrifying'

    Alim Osman, president of the Uyghur Association of Victoria, said it was "sad and heartbreaking" for the community in Australia to see videos like this circulating.

    "It's chilling and it's very horrifying for us. We feel like we are alone in this battle against the Chinese communist regime," he told the ABC.

    "We in Australia feel powerless and we feel guilty because we can't do anything about it.

    "[It] feels like exactly the same as what happened in Nazi Germany — it's happening in the twenty-first century again," he said.

    Mr Osman said China's treatment of Uyghurs was shrouded in secrecy and the fate of detainees was unknown — though he feared they could be victims of forced labour or even organ harvesting.

    There have been troubling reports of Uyghur children being separated from their families, the sterilisation of Uyghur women and China collecting blood and DNA samples from Uyghurs.

    Mr Osman welcomed the comments from Ms Payne.

    "[It's] time for the international community, especially our government, to speak out [against] what's happening in Xinjiang," he said.

    "If we don't speak out at this time of history, I think the Chinese communist regime is going to do more harm than good to us and to humanity."

    Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the ABC on Monday the drone footage was "absolutely shocking — really, really terrible."

    "I think that everyone who sees these images, whether they're in the political leadership of other countries, or among the broader public, they'll be horrified by those images," he said.

    Opposition leader Anthony Albanese told RN Breakfast on Tuesday that he hadn't seen the footage.

    "I haven't seen it but I have heard reports on it. Frankly, it sounds completely horrific," he said.

    When asked how he justified seeking closer military ties with a country implicated in the mass detention of the Uyghur people, he said engaging with China helped to build relationships.

    "It's important that we have an avenue, and that that's an honest one, that includes Australia raising — when appropriate — the human rights concerns that we have. Not just with the Uyghurs, but with the people of Tibet as well, and other issues," he said.

    "All of those issues aren't diminished by saying that we need that engagement with China and we need to continue to put forward our values."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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