Sunday 12 July 2020

Woman who revealed details of Chinese Uighur camps tells of death threats

An Uighur protest in Washington DC in 2009. Photo: Malcolm Brown via Wikimedia Commons

A woman from China’s Uighur minority in the Netherlands says she has received death threats since she published government documents exposing the harsh conditions in Chinese detention camps.

Asiye Abdulaheb sparked an international outcry when she posted excerpts from the 24-page secret document on Twitter. The papers were picked up by a journalist from the international network ICIJ and analysed as part of its China Cables investigation.

ICIJ would not confirm its source, but Abdulaheb told De Volkskrant that the document was on her laptop and had been verified by a German data researcher based in Xinjiang. The publication prompted US senators to draft legislation that would impose sanctions on the Chinese politicians responsible for the camps.

The documents (which can be downloaded in English here) directly contradict Beijing’s official line that the detention camps for Uighurs, a Muslim minority, are ‘training centres’ to rehabilitate people who have been exposed to extremist Islamist conditioning. The greatest concentration of Uighurs, around 12 million people, lives in Xinjiang province.

Human rights campaigners say that as many as a million people have been locked up in the camps since 2014, when large numbers of Uighurs began going missing. The document outlines a strict prison regime, with lines such as: ‘Doors to bedrooms, corridors and floors should be double-locked immediately after being opened and closed.’

The Chinese embassy in the UK has dismissed the ‘so-called documents’ as ‘pure fabrication and fake news’.


Abdulaheb fled to the Netherlands in 2009, where she met her husband, and has since become a Dutch citizen. As a member of the Uighur elite she worked for government institutions and kept her distance from the expat community, she told the Volkskrant.

In the weeks since the documents were disclosed she has received threats on social media, including a message telling her she would ‘end up in pieces in the black bin in your front garden.’

She said she had broken cover to seek the protection of the Dutch authorities. ‘I thought that this thing has to be made public,’ she told the New York Times at the weekend. ‘The Chinese police would definitely find us. The people in Dubai had told my ex-husband, “We know about all your matters. We have a lot of people in the Netherlands.”‘

Security service

The Dutch security service AIVD, which has been warning since 2011 about Beijing infiltrating the Uighur community in the Netherlands, was called in after she told local police about the threats.

‘That helps a little, but we can’t sleep any more,’ she told the Volkskrant. ‘We need more protection. Publicity offers us security.’

Her husband, Jasur Abibula, added that he had been put under pressure to spy for the Chinese government on other Dutch-based Uighurs. He claimed he had been flown to Dubai for a five-day trip where government officials told him he would be granted access to his family in China only if he co-operated.

Abibula said he had considered fleeing to the United States after learning about the document on his wife’s laptop, but Asiye is unwilling to abandon the life they have built in the Netherlands.

‘Thank God we have not betrayed anybody,’ she said. ‘We are well integrated in the Netherlands. We put our trust in the neighbourhood police officer.’

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