PRC’s big data program identifies Uighurs for ‘arbitrary’ detention

PRC’s big data program identifies Uighurs for ‘arbitrary’ detention

Radio Free Asia

Authorities in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region use a big data program that “arbitrarily selects Turkic Muslims for possible detention” in internment camps based on behavior that is legal, Human Rights Watch said in a report published in December 2020.d

In the report, “China: Big Data Program Targets Xinjiang’s Muslims,” the New York-based watchdog group analyzed a leaked list of over 2,000 detainees from Aksu prefecture provided in late 2018 by Radio Free Asia.

“The big data program, the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), apparently flagged the people on the Aksu List, whom officials then evaluated and sent to ‘political education’ camps in Xinjiang,” the report states. (Pictured: Muslim ethnic minorities are believed to be detained in this facility in China’s Xinjiang region.)

“The Aksu List provides further insights into how China’s brutal repression of Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims is being turbocharged by technology,” said Maya Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The Chinese government owes answers to the families of those on the list: Why were they detained, and where are they now?” she said in a statement before the report’s release.

The IJOP policing program aggregates data about people in Xinjiang and flags to officials those it deems potentially threatening, the report said. “Officials then evaluate these individuals’ ‘general performance’ together with other sources of information, and send some to political education camps and other facilities.”

Human Rights Watch said it spent nearly two years analyzing the list, consulting with Uighur exiles from the region and checking ID numbers against those on an official website of people who have been blacklisted under the PRC’s social credit system.

The analysis “strongly suggests that the vast majority of the people flagged by the IJOP system are detained for everyday lawful, non-violent behavior,” the report found.

Among the activities that led to detention, according to the report, were studying the Quran without state permission, allowing one’s children to study the Quran, reciting the Quran, wearing religious clothing or having a long beard, and making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia without state permission.

Uighurs were also sent to camps for traveling to “sensitive” countries — including Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — or other areas of Xinjiang such as Urumqi and Kashgar without notifying local officials, the watchdog group added.

“Predictive policing platforms are really just a pseudo-scientific fig leaf for the Chinese government to justify vast repression of Turkic Muslims,” Wang said. “The Chinese government should immediately shut down the IJOP, delete all the data it has collected, and release everyone arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang.”

Up to 1.8 million Uighurs — about 1 in 6 adults — and other Muslim minorities are believed to have been detained in a vast network of internment camps in Xinjiang since April 2017, often for acts labeled as signs of “extremism.”

Image credit: AFP/GETTY IMAGES