Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Daily Beast:
A major human rights crisis is unfolding in northwestern China, according to the United Nations, which said last week that there were credible reports that the Chinese government is holding one million or more ethnic minorities in secretive detention camps.
Yet even for those who have escaped China, surveillance and intimidation have followed. As part of a massive campaign to monitor and intimidate its ethnic minorities no matter where they are, Chinese authorities are creating a global registry of Uighurs who live outside of China, threatening to detain their relatives if they do not provide personal and identifying information to Chinese police. This campaign is now reaching even Uighurs who live in the United States.
A few months ago, Barna, who lives in a major U.S. city and requested that her real name not be revealed, received an odd message from her mother, who lives in China. Barna’s mother asked her to send her U.S. car license plate number, her phone number, her U.S. bank card number, and a photo of her ID card. Barna’s mother said that China is creating a new ID card system that includes all Chinese, even those who are abroad.
Beijing accuses Uighur separatists of religious extremism and has launched a shocking campaign of religious and cultural repression that has dramatically escalated in the past year and a half. Anywhere between 100,000 to a million Uighurs or more have been herded into extrajudicial concentration camps in Xinjiang; exact numbers are extremely difficult to assess, as the Chinese government tightly restricts access to the region and has not acknowledged the camps’ existence. In the camps, Uighurs are forced to renounce Islam, to memorize Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda, and to swear allegiance to the party. In some Uighur villages, up to 40 percent of the population has disappeared. Chinese authorities have also recently embarked on a campaign to build crematoria in Xinjiang.
At the same time, Beijing has been constructing an experimental high-tech totalitarian regime in Xinjiang. They’ve lined the streets with security cameras equipped with facial-recognition software, created a region-wide DNA database of all residents, and implemented a rating system encoded in every person’s ID card, categorizing the individual as “safe” or “not safe” based on criteria including how often the person prays.
These technologies, first tested on Uighurs and other ethnic minority groups, are now being exported to countries like Pakistan as part of China’s “safe cities” project.
As a result of the growing oppression, many Uighurs have tried to flee abroad. But Beijing has launched an unprecedented global campaign to get them back, or to monitor them where there are.
Of those who returned to China, many immediately disappeared, presumably into one of the camps. China also recruits Uighurs living abroad, as detailed in a Buzzfeed report in July.
“The reason that Uighurs are a canary in a coal mine,” explained Millward, “the reason that everyone should pay attention to this, even if they aren’t concerned about the fate of this ethnic group, is that these are tools of control that are now being employed by the CCP and are easily applied to other individuals as well.”
“The totalization and securitization of information in China, and then the globalization of that reach, is most apparent with regard to the Uighurs but is by no means limited to Uighurs,” he said.