An unnamed AP reporter exposes another source of anguish for China’s Uighurs: forced population control. Some experts say China is practicing a form of “demographic genocide” against the Muslim minority.
The story shocked people around the world and exposed a serious human rights issue: that the Chinese government has used its power to force the use of IUDs, abortions and sterilization on members of China’s Muslim minority in an apparent effort to reduce its population.
The piece, which ran without a byline for security reasons, established that China is imposing birth control on Uighurs and other Muslims in a far more widespread and systematic way than previously known.
The exclusive reporting grew out of an earlier piece in which the same reporter wrote about a leaked database showing the reasons listed for the detention of hundreds of Uighurs and other Muslims in China. The reporter noticed something striking: A reason for detention in more than a third of the cases was having too many children. The reporter knew individual Uighur and Kazakh women had spoken out about their forced abortion or sterilization, and the AP journalist wondered whether this was further proof that the Chinese government was deliberately trying to curb its Muslim minority population.
The reporter discovered that a prominent expert on the mass detention of Muslim minorities in China had also been looking into birth control in Xinjiang province. The expert was persuaded to share his research with AP in advance of publication. The reporter also worked Uighur and Kazakh sources to learn more about how the policies were implemented on the ground.
Painstaking, hours-long interviews followed with 30 ex-detainees, family members and even a former detention camp instructor. The coronavirus pandemic throttled plans for trips to Turkey or Kazakhstan, making it harder to find sources and forcing remote interviews to be conducted early in the morning or late at night across time zones.
With assistance from video journalist Nathan Ellgren in Washington and Minneapolis-based reporter Jeff Baenen, as well as a web of video journalists, photographers and fixers spanning Europe and the Middle East, the reporter pulled together text, photos and videos to supplement the reporting from China.
The story elicited a huge global response. Among the highlights:
— The State Department designated three senior Chinese Communist Party officials and their families ineligible to enter the U.S., citing human rights violations against Uighurs and other largely Muslim minorities.
— Seventy-eight senators and members of Congress signed a letter urging the Trump administration to sanction Chinese officials and called for a U.N. probe into whether the actions in Xinjiang constitute genocide. Dozens on both sides of the aisle weighted in personally, with Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah calling the Chinese policy “heinous” and Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York labeling it “horrific” and “genocidal.”
— Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden issued a statement saying he saw reports revealing “unconscionable crimes against Chinese women to curb the Uighur” and would work to “to stand against … mass detention and repression of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities and support a pathway for those persecuted to find safe haven in the United States and other nations.”
— The story was included in the material for the first-ever attempt to use the International Criminal Court to hold China’s Communist Party accountable for its crackdown on Uighurs.
— Foreign offices in the U.K., Canada and Australia responded directly to the reports; the EU delegation for relations with China published a statement saying they were "deeply shocked" and that it was an "unprecedented atrocity." The story was debated in British Parliament for nearly an hour.
— The Washington Post published an editorial and three op-eds that cited AP’s story. The New York Times ran an editorial, as did other outlets ranging from The New Republic to New York Magazine.
For uncovering another major chapter on the plight of the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China, the unidentified AP reporter wins this week’s Best of the Week award.