Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities are targeted by the Chinese government using predictive technology and locked up in camps under strict rules covering everything down to using the toilet, according to leaked Communist Party documents.
Suspects are identified – often before they have committed a crime – by a digital mass surveillance programme which even flags the users of some mobile phone apps for arrest, the papers reveal.
The indoctrination programme involves awarding points for “ideological education”, “compliance with discipline” and “study and training”, as well as “manner education” such as ”timely haircuts and shaves”.
Detainees are only released from the camps once they have gathered enough points – although they may then have to spend time in another centre for “labour skills training”.
The official documents, which were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, appear to confirm the testimony of former detainees who have spoken about their ordeals.
They include Erzhan Qurban, an ethnic Kazakh who was arrested by police on a trip back to China to see his mother and accused of committing crimes abroad. He was locked in a cell, told not to engage in “religious activities” like praying, forced to sit on a plastic stool and prevented from growing a beard. Those who disobeyed were forced to squat or spend 24 hours in solitary confinement in a frigid room.
“It wasn’t education, it was just punishment,” said Mr Qurban, who was held for nine months. “I was treated like an animal.”
Among the cache of documents is a memo by Xinjiang province’s top security chief explaining how to prevent escapes, how to maintain secrecy about the camps’ existence and how to monitor and control every aspect of the detainee’s life.
It says: “The students should have a fixed bed position, fixed queue position, fixed classroom seat, and fixed station during skills work, and it is strictly forbidden for this to be changed.
“Implement behavioural norms and discipline requirements for getting up, roll call, washing, going to the toilet, organising and housekeeping, eating, studying, sleeping, closing the door and so forth.”
Other documents make clear that many of those detained have not actually done anything and that the purpose of the digital surveillance is ”to prevent problems before they happen”.
This is done through a system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform or IJOP, designed to screen entire populations.
Built by a state-owned military contractor, the IJOP lists names of people considered suspicious, such as thousands of “unauthorised” imams not registered with the Chinese government, along with their associates.
Suspicious or extremist behaviour was so broadly defined that it included going abroad, asking others to pray or using cell phone apps that cannot be monitored by the government.
“There’s no other place in the world where a computer can send you to an internment camp,” said Rian Thum, a Xinjiang expert at the University of Nottingham. “This is absolutely unprecedented.”
The Chinese embassy in the UK described the documents as “fake news” and denied the existence of any “so-called detention camps”.
“Vocational education and training centres have been established for the prevention of terrorism,” it said in a statement.
“The preventative measures have nothing to do with the eradication of religious groups. Religious freedom is fully respected in Xinjiang.”
The embassy also claimed that ”some people in the west have been fiercely slandering and smearing China over Xinjiang in an attempt to create an excuse to interfere in China’s internal affairs”.
Additional reporting by Associated Press. A Panorama special on the China Cables will be shown on BBC One at 8.30pm on Monday 25 November.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies