Police list gives insight into detention system in China’s Xinjiang

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Chinese police officer takes his position by the road near what is officially called a vocational education centre in Yining

BEIJING (Reuters) -A leaked list of more than 2,000 ethnic Uighur detainees in China’s Xinjiang suggests the government used an expansive data collection project to arbitrarily detain Uighurs in the region, according to U.S. rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The list from Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture, obtained by HRW, is of detainees flagged by a Chinese predictive policing programme, called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), which collects data and identifies candidates for detention.

The list from 2018 includes the names of Xinjiang Uighurs, phone numbers and reasons for detention in China’s camp system, including studying the Koran, wearing religious clothing or travelling internationally.

“The Aksu list is the first time we have seen the IJOP in action in detaining people,” said HRW’s Maya Wang.

It “provides further insights into how China’s brutal repression of Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims is being turbocharged by technology”, she said.

Human Rights Watch did not identify the source of the list, citing the person’s safety. Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the list.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, asked about the group’s report at a daily briefing in Beijing, said it was not worth refuting. Human Rights Watch was “full of bias”, Zhao said.

U.N. experts and advocates say at least a million ethnic Uighurs, who are mostly Muslim and speak a Turkic language, have been detained at some point in Xinjiang camps.

China maintains that the heavily guarded centres are educational and vocational institutes, and that all the people who attended have “graduated” and gone home. Access to the camps is restricted and it is not possible to independently verify whether all the camps have closed.

Human Rights Watch said it was able to confirm the identities of people on the list with Uighurs now living abroad, including the identification of 18 members of the same family.

The rights group said the list is further evidence that the government selected Xinjiang Uighurs for detention based on religion, personal relationships, contact with overseas relatives and even age.

Other reasons for detention listed include activities like repeatedly switching off a smartphone, having “unstable thoughts” or “being generally untrustworthy”.

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