Uighur woman in the Netherlands says she was Xinjiang whistleblower

Uighur woman in the Netherlands says she was Xinjiang whistleblower


A Uighur woman living in the Netherlands said she helped leak secret Chinese government documents that shed light on how Beijing runs mass detention camps for Muslim ethnic minorities, recounting how she has lived in fear after receiving death threats for speaking out.


Asiye Abdulaheb, 46, told a Dutch newspaper that she was involved in the release of 24 pages of documents published by Western news outlets last month and was speaking out now to protect relatives from retaliation.


The documents, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and examined by journalists around the world, followed an earlier leak of 403 pages of internal papers to The New York Times that described how authorities created, managed and justified the continuing crackdown on as many as 1 million ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs.


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Abdulaheb said she had decided to speak about her involvement in the leak even though it might endanger her or her family.

“I can handle the pressure, but I’m afraid that something will happen to my children and their father,” she told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. “We no longer sleep. We need more protection. Publicity gives us protection.” Abdulaheb, who speaks Mandarin, said that she had worked for Chinese state institutions and that she moved to the Netherlands in 2009.

In an interview on Saturday (Dec 7), she confirmed that she received and helped leak the 24 pages, but she did not explain how she obtained the documents.

The Dutch newspaper reported that Abdulaheb had “shaken with nerves” when she acquired the 24 pages of internal Chinese documents on her laptop this year. After she posted a screenshot of one of the documents on Twitter, a German researcher on Xinjiang, China – Adrian Zenz – reached out to her and confirmed the authenticity of the documents.

Those documents were later acquired by various news organisations, though Abdulaheb did not say how.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an independent nonprofit based in Washington, later partnered with 17 other organisations, including The New York Times, to publish revelations on internment camps based on the 24-page set of documents.

That article came a week after the Times published a report based on 403 leaked pages that shed light on the origins and expansion of the crackdown in Xinjiang. The Times report said the source of its documents was a member of the Chinese political establishment who requested anonymity.

In a statement on Saturday, the consortium declined to say whether Abdulaheb was the source for its report. “ICIJ does not comment on its sources,” it said.


The two exposés sharpened international debate over the Chinese government’s intense crackdown across the region. Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party has overseen a wave of mass detentions in Xinjiang, driving up to 1 million members of largely Muslim minority groups, especially Uighurs, into indoctrination camps intended to drastically weaken their religious attachments and make them loyal to the party.


Initially, Chinese officials brushed away questions and reports about the detentions. But late last year, Beijing shifted its response: Chinese authorities have since acknowledged the existence of the programme but defended the camps as job training centres that teach language and practical skills and that also warn people of the dangers of religious extremism.


Earlier this year, senior officials in Xinjiang said that many people had been released from the centres but gave no clear numbers to back up that assertion, which has been met with widespread scepticism among foreign experts and Uighurs abroad.


In previous decades, Xinjiang, in far northwest China, experienced tensions between largely Muslim ethnic minorities and China’s Han ethnic majority. About half the region’s population is made up of minority groups, mainly 11.7 million Uighurs and 1.6 million Kazakhs. Both groups’ language and culture set them apart from Han people.


In 2009, the year Abdulaheb left China, ethnic rioting erupted in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, and nearly 200 people were killed, most of them Han. China has cited that bloodshed and a succession of subsequent attacks on Chinese targets to defend its tough policies in Xinjiang.






About The Author

Lilian Osigwe

Osigweh Lilian Oluchi is a graduate of the University of Lagos where she obtained a B.A (Hons) in English, Masters in Public and International affairs (MPIA). Currently works with 1stnews as a Database Manager / Writer. lilian.osigweh@1stnews.com

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