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Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Xinjiang
Image: Reuters/T. Peter

China targeting Muslims with app: report

May 2, 2019

Authorities are collecting data on legal behavior in order to investigate Muslims, says Human Rights Watch. Activists believe that 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims have been forced into camps across China.


Police in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China are using a mass surveillance app to target the Uighur Muslim population, a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.

The tool profiles people by labeling "completely lawful" behavior as suspicious, in order to help authorities detain the religious minority, the report said.

Read more: Opinion: Xi Jinping is taking China down a dangerous path

"Our research shows, for the first time, that Xinjiang police are using illegally gathered information about people's completely lawful behavior and using it against them," said Maya Wang, HRW's senior researcher on China.

"The Chinese government is monitoring every aspect of people's lives in Xinjiang, picking out those it mistrusts, and subjecting them to extra scrutiny."

HRW has previously written about the mass surveillance program known as the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), which uses a system of facial recognition software, smartphone geolocation, bank records and home visits to keep the population in line.

'Algorithm of repression'

However, the new report details the monitoring of certain actions, such as "enthusiastically" donating to mosques, using an "abnormal" amount of electricity, not using a smartphone or not socializing often with neighbors. The rights group said this new "algorithm of repression" was specifically designed to target minority Uighurs.

HRW worked with German security company Cure53 to reverse engineer the IJOP app in 2018, giving them an "an unprecedented window into how mass surveillance actually works in Xinjiang."

Activists believe about 1 million Uighurs and other Chinese Muslims are currently in internment camps that Beijing claim are vocational training centers.

On top of the electronic surveillance, Human Rights Watch says many Uighurs are forced to allow human monitors to live in their homes, and that the authorities have already collected "DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans and blood types of all residents between the age of 12 and 65."

es/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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