According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a big data program in Xinjiang in China “arbitrarily selects” Muslims for detention, reporting behaviors such as wearing the veil, studying the Koran, or pilgrimage to Hajj.
In a new report On Wednesday, the human rights group said it analyzed a leaked list of more than 2,000 detainees in Xinjiang’s Aksu Prefecture and found that the program – known as the platform of operations Integrated Spouses (IJOP) – had also reported people for their relationships, communications, travel. stories, or to be linked to someone the authorities consider suspicious.
“The Aksu List provides additional insight into how China’s brutal crackdown on Turkish Muslims in Xinjiang is being fueled by technology,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at HRW.
“The Chinese government owes the families of those on the list answers: why were they detained and where are they now?”
The United Nations estimates that more than a million Turkish Muslims – most of them Uyghurs – have been detained in camps in the far west of Xinjiang. Activists say the purpose of the detention was “to erase the ethnic and religious identities” of Turkish Muslims and to secure their loyalty to the Chinese government.
Beijing denies the charges, describing the camps as vocational training centers to help eradicate “religious extremism” in the ailing province.
HRW said the Aksu list – which dates to the end of 2018 – shows new evidence of the role big data and technology play in helping officials select targets for “forced thought transformation.” Earlier this year, activists documented how Karakax officials in Xinjiang used the IJOP to determine whether a person should remain in detention. A Karakax official dismissed this report as a “fabrication”.
‘Pseudo-scientific fig leaf’
HRW said it obtained the Aksu List – a spreadsheet titled: List of IJOP Interns – from an anonymous source in Xinjiang and verified the authenticity of the list by comparing it to official records, social media records. and consulting with Uyghur diaspora communities and two experts who have extensively documented Beijing’s crackdown in Xinjiang.
HRW gave the example of Ms T, who was detained because IJOP reported her for “links to sensitive countries.” The list showed that Ms T received four calls from a foreign number in March 2017, which HRW said belonged to Ms T’s sister when they called her.
“Ms. T’s sister said that the Xinjiang police interrogated Ms. T around the time that Aksu’s list recorded the date of her detention. Police specifically asked about her sister because she lives abroad, ”HRW said.
Ms. T’s sister told HRW that she had not had direct contact with her family in Xinjiang since then, but heard that Ms. T now works in a factory five days a week and is not allowed to return. at home only on weekends.
“Ms. T’s sister believes Ms. T is forced to work in a factory against her will, noting that Ms. T trained for a different career before being detained.
In a second case, a man was detained for studying the Koran in the mid-1980s and “letting his wife wear a veil” in the early 2000s, HRW said. In a third case, a woman was arrested for traveling outside of Aksu, having visited Kashgar once and overnighted in Hotan, both in 2013.
About 10%, or more than 200, of those on the Aksu list were arrested for “terrorism” and “extremism,” according to the spreadsheet, but authorities have not claimed that these detainees committed, incited, supported or plotted acts. violence, HRW said.
Other reasons for detaining a person included using software such as a virtual private network (VPN), Skype, or the Zapya peer-to-peer file sharing app.
Going “off-grid” by turning off their phones or disappearing for periods of time has also been listed.
HRW said its analysis of the Aksu List “strongly suggests that the vast majority of people reported by the IJOP system are detained for legal and non-violent behavior on a daily basis.”
Wang said that predictive policing platforms like the IJOP “are really just a pseudo-scientific fig leaf for the Chinese government to justify a broad crackdown on Turkish Muslims.”
She added, “The Chinese government should immediately shut down the IJOP, delete all the data it has collected, and release all those arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang.”
HRW also said there was preliminary evidence that the IJOP system is being used in China outside of Xinjiang.
A purchase document dated January 2020 shows that the China Electronics Technology Group (CETC) which built the IJOP in Xinjiang built the same system in Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia province.
The region has the highest concentration of the Hui ethnic group, also a Muslim minority.
“While it is not known how the system is used, religious restrictions on Hui Muslims – closing mosques and Arabic-language schools, cleaning up Arabic scripts from halal restaurants – are on the rise in Ningxia and elsewhere. ‘other Hui Muslim regions since 2019,’ said to me.