Leaked document shows China detaining Uighurs for practicing Islam and ‘being young’, rights group says

Researcher says list of detainees shows ‘brutal repression’ of minority group

Conrad Duncan
Wednesday 09 December 2020 15:04
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Chinese ambassador confronted with footage appearing to show blindfolded Uighur Muslims being led onto train

A leaked list of more than 2,000 ethnic Uighur detainees in China’s Xinjiang region has shown how government officials arbitrarily detained people over supposed transgressions including practising Islam and simply being young, according to a human rights group.

The list from Xinjiang's Aksu prefecture, obtained by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and dated to 2018, showed detainees who were flagged by a Chinese predictive policing programme called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), which collects data and identifies candidates for detention.

It includes the names of Uighurs in Xinjiang, their phone numbers and the reasons for their detention in Chinese internment camps, such as studying the Quran and travelling internationally.

“The Aksu list provides further insights into how China’s brutal repression of Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims is being turbocharged by technology,” said Maya Wang, a senior researcher on China at HRW.

“The Chinese government owes answers to the families of those on the list: why were they detained, and where are they now?”

Ms Wang added: “‘Predictive policing’ platforms are really just a pseudo-scientific fig leaf for the Chinese government to justify vast repression of Turkic Muslims.”

The IJOP is a mass surveillance system that collects data on individuals from multiple different sources and then flags people who are deemed to be potentially threatening, HRW said.

The rights group did not identify the source of the list, citing the person’s safety as the reason.

When asked about the report at a daily briefing in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said it was not worth refuting because HRW was “full of bias”.

The rights group has previously accused China of carrying out “the most intense attack on the global system for enforcing human rights” in modern history.

Meanwhile, UN experts and advocates have warned that at least a million ethnic Uighurs, most of whom are Muslim, have been detained at some point in camps in Xinjiang.

Chinese authorities have argued that the camps are educational and vocational institutes, and have claimed that all the people who attended them have “graduated” and gone home.

However, access to the centres is restricted and it is not possible to independently verify whether all the camps have closed.

In the UK, ministers have faced pressure from opposition MPs to impose human rights sanctions on China over its treatment of Uighurs and its actions in Hong Kong.

The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, accused China in July of “gross and egregious” human rights abuses against the country’s Uighur population, after reports alleged a programme of forced sterilisation.

The Chinese ambassador to the UK claimed that there were no concentration camps in Xinjiang, and argued that “fake accusations” were being made against the Chinese government.

HRW said that it was able to confirm the identities of people on the list with Uighurs who are now living abroad and who identified 18 names on the list as immediate family members.

Basic Islamic practices, such as studying or reciting the Quran without state permission, wearing religious clothing – for example, a burqa or veil – or having a long beard, were listed in the document as potentially suspicious behaviour.

Other reasons for detention on the list included being born after the 1980s, being “generally untrustworthy” and having “unstable thoughts” and “improper sexual relations”.

The rights group said that, in one instance, a man was detained for having studied the Quran in the mid-1980s and having allowed his wife to wear a veil in the early 2000s, suggesting a broad system of surveillance going back decades.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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