International

Uighurs in Xinjiang live in constant fear

Sense of insecurity: Residents in Kashgar, Xinjiang, walking past a Mao statue. The region’s public security funding is slated to increase by 50% this year.

Sense of insecurity: Residents in Kashgar, Xinjiang, walking past a Mao statue. The region’s public security funding is slated to increase by 50% this year.   | Photo Credit: AP

Policing, both overt and covert, ensures that every movement of residents is minutely tracked

Chinese authorities are using detentions and data-driven surveillance to impose a police state over the region of Xinjiang and its 10 million Uighurs. Unprecedented levels of police blanket Xinjiang’s streets in many cities. Cutting-edge surveillance systems track where Uighurs go, what they read, who they talk to and what they say.

Through rare interviews with Uighurs who recently left China, a review of government procurement contracts and unreported documents, and a trip through southern Xinjiang, the Associated Press pieced together a picture of a campaign that’s ostensibly rooting out terror but instead instilling fear.

Most of the more than a dozen Uighurs interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Hotan, police depots with flashing lights and foot patrols are set up every 500 meters. Motorcades of more than 40 armoured vehicles rumble down city boulevards. Police checkpoints on every other block stop cars to check identification and smartphones for religious content.

Xinjiang’s published budget data shows public security spending this year is on track to increase 50% from 2016 to roughly 45 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) after rising 40% a year ago. It’s quadrupled since 2009, when a Uighur riot broke out in Urumqi, killing nearly 200 people. But much of the policing goes unseen. Shoppers entering the Hotan bazaar must pass through metal detectors and place their national identification cards on a reader while having their faces scanned.

Making people spy

The government’s tracking efforts have extended to vehicles, genes and even voices. China has also turned to a familiar low-tech surveillance tactic: recruiting the masses.

A Uighur businessman from Kashgar who fled China said his four brothers and his father were in prison because of his escape and that families tasked with spying on one another in his community had also been punished. Members from each were sent to re-education centers for three months, he told AP.

A document obtained by U.S.-based activists and seen by the AP shows Uighur residents in the Hebei Road West neighbourhood in Urumqi, the regional capital, being graded on a 100-point scale. Those of Uighur ethnicity are automatically docked 10 points. Being aged between 15 and 55, praying daily, or having a religious education, all result in 10 point deductions.

Further, Uighurs abroad say it’s too risky to stay in touch with their families in China.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 12:45:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/uighurs-in-xinjiang-live-in-constant-fear/article21827442.ece

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