New Document Reveals How China Is Monitoring Uyghurs

Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

The Uyghur region is predominantly home to Turkish-speaking Sunni Muslims.(Image: jun jin luo via Wikimedia Commons)

The Chinese government is known to have adopted a discriminatory stance toward the Uyghur Muslim population in the country. A new document that provides information on a database maintained by the state reveals the grave extent to which Uyghurs are being monitored and persecuted through internment camps. The database lists hundreds of people from Karakax County in Xinjiang, providing reasons as to why these people were being watched or detained.

Repressing Uyghur identity

“On the database, detainees and their families are tracked and classified by rigid, well-defined categories. Households are designated as “trustworthy” or “not trustworthy,” and their attitudes are graded as “ordinary” or “good.” Families have “light” or “heavy” religious “atmospheres,” and the document keeps count of how many relatives of each detainee are in prison or have been sent to a “training center.” Officials used these categories to determine how suspicious a person was, even if they had not committed any crimes,” according to The Guardian.

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Information on the Karakax list was collected by officials who were posted in communities, visited homes, and stationed at mosques. All such collected data was compiled in a dossier that contains information about individuals, their relatives, community, and religious background. Since Karakax is 97 percent Uyghur, most people are from this religious community.

Officials targeted people for activities like installing foreign software, clicking on links to foreign websites, getting a passport, going abroad, attending a mosque, praying, and growing a beard. People who were found suspicious were sent to detainment camps. Those who already had relatives at any of the camps were far more likely to end up there. This basically ends up criminalizing an entire family.

A 38-year-old woman was sent to a camp for wearing a veil. A 65-year-old man was marked for “continued training” at the camp because two of his daughters had worn veils or burkas and a son had shown strong Islamic leanings together with an anti-Han sentiment. The Karakax list has no authenticating marks. As such, its validity as an official document is almost impossible to verify. The document was provided by an Uyghur woman named Asiye Abdulaheb from Amsterdam who had received it from an Uyghur exile.

A 65-year-old man was marked for ‘continued training’ at the camp because two of his daughters had worn burkas.
A 65-year-old man was marked for ‘continued training’ at the camp because two of his daughters had worn burkas. (Image: via Pixabay)

“Regardless of whether there are official stamps on the document or not, this is information about real, live people… It is private information about people that wouldn’t be made public. So there is no way for the Chinese government to claim it is fake… I am worried about the safety of my relatives and friends… But if everyone keeps silent because they want to protect themselves and their families, then we will never prevent these crimes from being committed,” Asiye said to the BBC.

The coronavirus scare

The spread of coronavirus in China has alarmed the Uyghur community. Since many of them are being held in internment camps under degrading conditions, the chances of the virus quickly spreading among the detainees is very high. A petition on Change.Org is calling for the shutdown of the camps to reduce the possibility of coronavirus infection. It has gotten more than 3,000 signatures.

Uyghurs are worried that their people being held in detainment camps might end up being infected with the coronavirus.
Uyghurs are worried that their people being held in detainment camps might end up being infected with the coronavirus. (Image: via Pixabay)

“People are starting to panic. Our families are there, dealing with the camps and the virus, and we do not know if they have enough to eat or if they have masks,” Dilnur Reyhan, a French sociologist of Uyghur origin, said to The Guardian. According to official statistics, Xinjiang has registered only 55 cases of infection. However, considering that the state is trying to cover up uncomfortable truths about the coronavirus infection, official statistics are not entirely reliable. 

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