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China's Big Data program targeting Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang

China's Big Data program targeting Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed in its latest <a href="https://media.hrw.org/preview/2640/china-big-data-program-targets-xinjiangs-muslims/eng">report</a> that a big data program for policing in China’s Xinjiang region arbitrarily selects Muslims for detention in “political education” camps after flagging them for "suspicious behavior" like studying the Quran without state permission or going on Hajj – the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, considered a religious duty in Islam.

HRW said that a leaked list of over 2,000 detainees from Aksu prefecture provided to them is further evidence of China’s use of technology in its repression of the Muslim population.

"According to a leaked database reviewed by HRW, practicing Islam is a major reason why the Chinese government is detaining Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims for forced re-education. Where are the protests of Muslim-majority countries?" questioned Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch.


The international non-governmental organization had first reported on the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) in February 2018, noting that the policing program aggregates data about people from various sensory systems in Xinjiang, and flags to officials those it deems potentially threatening.

The organization said that Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service provided them with an Excel spreadsheet titled “List of IJOP Trainees” with the names of over 2,000 people obtained from an anonymous Xinjiang source in late 2018. The sheet has columns that include the person’s name, gender, the date of their detention in a political education camp, the reason for their detention, the number of their detention facility or cell, the batch number from which the IJOP systems picked them out, and the reason why, usually no more than a sentence or two.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet">
<p dir="ltr" lang="en">Chinese Pres Xi Jinping told French Pres Macron that he "hopes Europe will be positive in its approach to China." Easy. The Chinese government should stop detaining Uyghur Muslims, crushing Hong Kong's freedoms, and attacking the global rights system. <a href="https://t.co/lOor5zcF8o">https://t.co/lOor5zcF8o</a> <a href="https://t.co/MP0eveVhVP">pic.twitter.com/MP0eveVhVP</a></p>
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) <a href="https://twitter.com/KenRoth/status/1337068352213315585?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 10, 2020</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

The report revealed that the vast majority of the people flagged by the IJOP system are detained for everyday lawful, non-violent behavior. This contradicts the Chinese authorities’ claims that their “sophisticated,” “predictive” technologies, like the IJOP, are keeping Xinjiang safe by “targeting” criminals “with precision.”

The agency said that mass surveillance and arbitrary detention of Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims violate fundamental rights under China’s constitution and international human rights law. Article 37 of the constitution states that all arrests must be approved by either the procuratorate (the state prosecution agency) or the courts.

<img class="wp-image-39567 size-large" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Uyghur-Muslims-China-1024×732.jpg" alt="Uyghur Muslims China " width="1024" height="732" /> The report revealed that the vast majority of the people flagged by the IJOP system are detained for everyday lawful, non-violent behavior. This contradicts the Chinese authorities’ claims that their “sophisticated,” “predictive” technologies, like the IJOP, are keeping Xinjiang safe by “targeting” criminals “with precision" (Image courtesy: HRW/Badiucao)

"Yet Human Rights Watch research indicates that neither agency appears to be involved in these detentions. Rather, administrative officials, including police officers, make the sole decision to detain someone. Those facing detention have no right to due process, including access to lawyers and family members, or a chance to stand trial to contest such allegations. The use of intrusive surveillance, including in and around people’s homes, also violates everyone’s right to privacy," said HRW.

Human Rights Watch’s analysis suggested that "Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims are presumed guilty until proven innocent."


In some cases, the report mentioned, the alleged “problematic” behaviors dated to years earlier, revealing broad surveillance of legal and non-violent behavior going back decades. In one case, a man was detained for having studied the Quran in the mid-80s, and having “let his wife wear a veil” in the early 2000s. In another case, a woman was detained for once going to Kashgar, and once staying overnight in Hotan, both in 2013.

"The authorities listed “terrorism” and “extremism,” both perilously over-expansive terms in Chinese law, as the reasons for detaining about 10 percent (or over 200) of the people on the list. Yet the authorities did not allege that these detainees committed, incited, supported, or plotted any acts of violence, much less any acts that would rise to the level of terrorism. About one in five in this group were tagged for downloading or sharing “terrorism” or “extremism” content. About four in five were listed as being related to someone who had downloaded or shared such content, or to someone who was detained for terrorism or extremism. The Aksu List does not provide any additional information on the content of such audiovisual materials," HRW revealed.

In mid-2019, Human Rights Watch was able to speak with an official in the region involved in carrying out the IJOP system.

As per the report, the person said: "From 2016 to mid-2018 we were arresting people. In the beginning we were arresting those who spread terrorism videos, those who receive or give funds to ETIM, [and] those who participated in riots, and we would send them to the local political education centers. Later on … there were quotas for arrests in all the locales, and so we began to arrest people randomly: people who argue in the neighborhood, people who street fight, drunkards, people who are lazy; we would arrest them and accuse them of being extremists. There was not enough room for them all in the centers, so they built new ones.…"


Human Rights Watch said it is confident that all the people on the Aksu List are Uyghurs.

“The Aksu List provides further insights into how China’s brutal repression of Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims is being turbocharged by technology. The Chinese government owes answers to the families of those on the list: why were they detained, and where are they now? Predictive policing platforms are really just a pseudo-scientific fig leaf for the Chinese government to justify vast repression of Turkic Muslims. The Chinese government should immediately shut down the IJOP, delete all the data it has collected, and release everyone arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at HRW..