China: sweeps, surveillance in police-state Xinjiang

Thousands of Uighurs, members of the indigenous Muslim and Turkic people of China's far-western Xinjiang region, are currently being detained in "political education camps," according to international rights observers. "Every household, every family had three or four people taken away," said Omer Kanat, executive committee chairman of the World Uyghur Congress, based in Germany. "In some villages, you can't see men on the streets anymore—only women and children—all the men have been sent to the camps." One recent report put the number of Uighurs confined in "overcrowded and squalid" conditions at 120,000 just in Xinjiang's Kashgar prefecture. (CNN, Feb. 2; RFA, Jan. 22)

Uighur community leaders appear to be particularly targetted in the sweeps. The DC-based Uyghur Human Rights Project in late January received confirmation from relatives of Muhammad Salih Hajim of his death in custody. The prominent scholar and Uighur religious leader was 82 years old, and had been detained in Urumchi late last year, along with his daughter and other relatives. UHRP is calling on the Chinese government to detail the kind conditions under which he was held, and to release his relatives if they are not being charged with any crime. Salih was the first scholar to translate the Koran into the Uighur language in a government-approved project. (UHRP, Jan. 29)

Recent months have also seen the arrest of the four most prominent Uighur business leaders in the city of Kashgar (Chinese: Kashi), for acts of "religious extremism." The leaders are named as Abdujelil Hajim, Gheni Haji, Memet Tursun Haji, and Imin Hajim. They were apparently taken into custody in May 2017, although news of the arrests only broke last month. The four, whose last names all signify that they have made the pilgrimage to Mecca, were later sentenced to a total of 42 years in prison, a source said. (RFA, Jan. 5)

Chinese authorties are also said to be installing new facial-recognition technology in Uighur villages across Xinjiang to enforce restrictions on residents' movements. The devices alert authorities when targeted people venture more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) beyond designated "safe areas," according to sources on the ground. "A system like this is obviously well-suited to controlling people," said Jim Harper, vice president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a founding member of the US Homeland Security Department's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee. "'Papers, please' was the symbol of living under tyranny in the past. Now, government officials don't need to ask."  (Bloomberg, Jan. 17)

As a part of this program, authorities in Xinjiang are collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all residents in the region between the age of 12 and 65, Human Rights Watch reports. This campaign significantly expands authorities' collection of biodata beyond previous government efforts in the region, which only required all passport applicants in Xinjiang to supply biometrics. (HRW, Dec. 13)

Ironically, the "re-reducation" program persists in the Xinjiang "security state" after forced labor camps and other such legacies of the Maoist era have been abolished by the government.

Imperial hypocrisy on Xinjiang

It is slightly irksome to have to cite (Congressionally funded) Radio Free Asia in the above report on the police state unforlding in Xinjiang. It's rather akin to Chinese and Russian state media cynically exploiting Black Lives Matter protests and the like. But it remains a fact that RFA does probably the most aggressive reporting on Xinjiang in English. Far more maddening is to have to cite the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a far-right organization that actually supported the Honduran coup. A rather selective opponent of police states....