Data shows China crim­i­nal­ized Mus­lim faith

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Dake Kang

BEI­JING >> For decades, the Uighur imam was a bedrock of his farm­ing com­mu­nity in China’s far west. On Fri­days, he preached Is­lam as a re­li­gion of peace. On Sun­days, he treated the sick with free herbal medicine. In the win­ter, he bought coal for the poor.

But as a Chi­nese gov­ern­ment mass de­ten­tion cam­paign en­gulfed Mem­timin Emer’s na­tive Xin­jiang re­gion three years ago, the el­derly imam was swept up and locked away, along with all three of his sons liv­ing in China.

Now, a newly re­vealed data­base ex­poses in ex­tra­or­di­nary de­tail the main rea­sons for the de­ten­tions of Emer, his three sons, and hun­dreds of oth­ers in Karakax County: their re­li­gion and their fam­ily ties.

The data­base ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press pro­files the in­tern­ment of 311 in­di­vid­u­als with rel­a­tives abroad and lists in­for­ma­tion on more than 2,000 of their rel­a­tives, neigh­bors and friends. Each en­try in­cludes the de­tainee’s name, ad­dress, na­tional iden­tity num­ber, de­ten­tion date and lo­ca­tion, along with a de­tailed dossier on their fam­ily, re­li­gious and neigh­bor­hood back­ground, the rea­son for de­ten­tion, and a de­ci­sion on whether or not to re­lease them. Is­sued within the past year, the doc­u­ments do not in­di­cate which gov­ern­ment de­part­ment com­piled them or for whom.

Taken as a whole, the in­for­ma­tion of­fers the fullest and most per­sonal view yet into how Chi­nese of­fi­cials de­cided who to put into and let out of de­ten­tion camps, as part of a mas­sive crack­down that has locked away more than a mil­lion eth­nic mi­nori­ties, most of them Mus­lims.

The data­base em­pha­sizes that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment fo­cused on re­li­gion as a rea­son for de­ten­tion — not just po­lit­i­cal ex­trem­ism, as au­thor­i­ties claim, but or­di­nary ac­tiv­i­ties such as pray­ing, at­tend­ing a mosque, or even grow­ing a long beard. It also shows the role of fam­ily: Peo­ple with de­tained rel­a­tives are far more likely to end up in a camp them­selves, up­root­ing and crim­i­nal­iz­ing en­tire fam­i­lies like Emer’s in the process.

Sim­i­larly, fam­ily back­ground and at­ti­tude is a big­ger fac­tor than de­tainee be­hav­ior in whether they are re­leased.

“It’s very clear that re­li­gious prac­tice is be­ing tar­geted,” said Dar­ren Byler, a Univer­sity of Colorado re­searcher study­ing the use of sur­veil­lance tech­nol­ogy in Xin­jiang. “They want to frag­ment so­ci­ety, to pull the fam­i­lies apart and make them much more vul­ner­a­ble to re­train­ing and reed­u­ca­tion.”

The Xin­jiang re­gional gov­ern­ment did not re­spond to faxes re­quest­ing com­ment. Asked whether Xin­jiang is tar­get­ing re­li­gious peo­ple and their fam­i­lies, for­eign min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang said “this kind of non­sense is not worth com­ment­ing on.”

Bei­jing has said be­fore that the de­ten­tion cen­ters are for vol­un­tary job train­ing, and that it does not dis­crim­i­nate based on re­li­gion.

China has strug­gled for decades to con­trol Xin­jiang, where the na­tive Uighurs have long re­sented Bei­jing’s heavy-handed rule. With the 9/11 at­tacks in the United States, of­fi­cials be­gan us­ing the specter of ter­ror­ism to jus­tify harsher re­li­gious re­stric­tions, say­ing young Uighurs were sus­cep­ti­ble to Is­lamic ex­trem­ism.

Af­ter mil­i­tants set off bombs at a train sta­tion in Xin­jiang’s cap­i­tal in 2014, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping launched a so-called “Peo­ple’s War on Ter­ror”, trans­form­ing Xin­jiang into a dig­i­tal po­lice state.

The leak of the data­base from sources in the Uighur ex­ile com­mu­nity fol­lows the re­lease in Novem­ber of a clas­si­fied blue­print on how the mass de­ten­tion sys­tem really works. The blue­print ob­tained by the In­ter­na­tional Con­sor­tium of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ists, which in­cludes the AP, showed that the cen­ters are in fact forced ide­o­log­i­cal and be­hav­ioral re-ed­u­ca­tion camps run in se­cret. An­other set of doc­u­ments leaked to the New York Times re­vealed the his­tor­i­cal lead-up to the mass de­ten­tion.

The lat­est set of doc­u­ments came from sources in the Uighur ex­ile com­mu­nity, and the most re­cent date in them is March 2019. The de­tainees listed come from Karakax County, a tra­di­tional set­tle­ment of about 650,000 on the edge of Xin­jiang’s Tak­la­makan desert where more than 97 per­cent of res­i­dents are Uighur. The list was cor­rob­o­rated through in­ter­views with for­mer Karakax res­i­dents, Chi­nese iden­tity ver­i­fi­ca­tion tools, and other lists and doc­u­ments seen by the AP.

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 data­base keeps count of how many rel­a­tives of each de­tainee are locked in prison or sent to a “train­ing cen­ter.”

Of­fi­cials used these cat­e­gories to de­ter­mine how sus­pi­cious a per­son was — even if they hadn’t com­mit­ted any crimes.

“It un­der­scores the witch­hunt mind­set of the gov­ern­ment, and how the gov­ern­ment crim­i­nal­izes ev­ery­thing,” said Adrian Zenz, an ex­pert on the de­ten­tion cen­ters and se­nior fel­low at the Vic­tims of Com­mu­nism Memo­rial Foun­da­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Rea­sons listed for in­tern­ment in­clude “mi­nor re­li­gious in­fec­tion,” “dis­turbs other per­sons by vis­it­ing them with­out rea­sons,” “rel­a­tives abroad,” “think­ing is hard to grasp” and “un­trust­wor­thy per­son born in a cer­tain decade.” The last seems to re­fer to younger men; about 31 per­cent of peo­ple con­sid­ered “un­trust­wor­thy” were in the age bracket of 25 to 29 years, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of the data by Zenz.

When for­mer stu­dent Ab­dul­lah Muham­mad spot­ted Emer’s name on the list of the de­tained, he was dis­traught.

“He didn’t de­serve this,” Muham­mad said. “Ev­ery­one liked and re­spected him. He was the kind of per­son who couldn’t stay silent against in­jus­tice.”


Uighur se­cu­rity per­son­nel pa­trol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kash­gar.

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