Surveillance and Repression of Uyghurs Intensifies in Xinjiang and Globally

In recent months the human rights situation in the restive northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has been deteriorating rapidly. Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, the Muslim ethnic minority that constitutes the majority of the local population, have been sent to re-education camps. Stories from the camps paint a stark picture, with detainees being held indefinitely as part of a newly normalised predictive policing regime. This follows a continuing crackdown targeting Uyghurs since 2014, which bans religious practices and dress, and is ostensibly aimed at stamping out religious extremism. With this anti-terror rationale, Xinjiang has become a testing ground for a state-of-the-art high-tech surveillance state. Authorities have been collecting biometric data at state-organised medical check ups, and Uyghurs are now required to install surveillance apps on their mobile phones. These actions have been accompanied by the rapid increase in the use of facial recognition software, iris scans at police checkpoints, and a range of other types of data collection that feed into an ‘Integrated Joint Operations Platform’ (tihua lianhe zuozhan pingtai) providing real-time analysis of ‘security threats’. Xinjiang residents are also being assigned ‘safety scores’, with those deemed ‘unsafe’ being sent to the re-education camps (see Loubere and Brehm’s essay in the current issue). The Chinese government has also increased pressure on Uyghurs outside of the country. Family members of Uyghur reporters for Radio Free Asia have gone missing in an apparent attempt at intimidation. Uyghurs in other countries, even those with foreign nationalities, have also been pressured to provide personal information—such as addresses, photos, and scans of foreign identity documents—to Chinese security forces. Those who refuse are compelled through threats to their families. The Chinese authorities have not publically acknowledged the existence of re-education camps. NL

(Sources: China Digital Times 1; China Digital Times 2; Foreign Policy; Human Rights Watch; Radio Free Asia; The Washington Post)

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