Drone footage has emerged showing police leading hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men from a train in what is believed to be a transfer of inmates in Xinjiang.
The video, posted anonymously on YouTube last week, shows what appear to be Uighur or other minorities wearing blue and yellow uniforms, with cleanly shaven heads, their eyes covered, sitting in rows on the ground and later being led away by police. Prisoners in China are often transferred with handcuffs and masks covering their faces.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s international cyber policy centre, used clues in the footage, including landmarks and the position of the sun, to verify the video, which he believes was shot at a train station west of Korla in south-east Xinjiang in August last year.
Much of the focus of international criticism of China’s far-reaching anti-terrorism campaign in Xinjiang has centred on the extrajudicial detentions of more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in internment and political re-education camps.
The number of formal arrests and prison sentences has also increased. According to analysis by the New York Times, local courts sentenced 230,000 people to prison or other punishments in 2017 and 2018, as the campaign got under way. Xinjiang accounts for less than 2% of the country’s population but about 21% of all arrests in 2017.
Ruser said the detainees were most likely being transferred to prisons in Korla from Kashgar, where the crackdown has been particularly severe. The area is believed to be home to several re-education camps but fewer detention centres.
“It counters the propaganda offensive China is trying to show,” he said, underlining the treatment of those within the penal system.
China has been taking diplomats and select groups of journalists on carefully orchestrated tours of Xinjiang and has defended its anti-extremism methods, describing them as a model for other countries to follow.
On Sunday, Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, described the video as “deeply disturbing”.
The video was posted on YouTube by an account named War on Fear, whose stated goal is to fight fear inspired by hi-tech surveillance.