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Leaked data shows China’s Uighurs detained due to religion

World News | Published:

The database profiles the internment of 311 individuals and lists information on more than 2,000 of their relatives, neighbours and friends.

A leaked database has exposed in detail reasons for the detentions of hundreds of people in the Chinese territory of Xinjiang.

The database profiles the internment of 311 individuals with relatives abroad in Karakax County, and lists information on more than 2,000 of their relatives, neighbours and friends.

Each entry includes the detainee’s name, address, national identity number, detention date and location, along with a dossier on their family, religious and community background, the reason for detention, and a decision on whether to release them.

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

The leaked database
The documents offer the fullest view yet into how Chinese officials decided who to put into and let out of detention camps (AP Photo)

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

Asked whether Xinjiang is targeting religious people and their families, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “This kind of nonsense is not worth commenting on.”

The Chinese government has said in the past that the detention centres are for voluntary job training, and that it does not discriminate based on religion.

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China has struggled for decades to control Xinjiang, where the native, predominantly Muslim Uighurs have long resented Beijing’s rule. 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”, turning Xinjiang into a digital police state.

Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China’s Xinjiang region
Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China’s Xinjiang region (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

The database comes from sources in the Uighur exile community, and does not spell out which government department issued it or for whom. The detainees listed come from Karakax County, a traditional settlement on the edge of Xinjiang’s Taklamakan desert where more than 97% of its roughly 650,000 residents are Uighur. The list was corroborated through interviews with former Karakax residents, identity verification tools, and other lists and documents.

The database shows that cadres compile dossiers on detainees called the “three circles”, encompassing their relatives, community, and religious background.

The detainees and their families are then classified by rigid categories. Households are designated as “trustworthy” or “not trustworthy”. 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 centre”.

Officials used these categories to determine how suspicious a person was – even if they had not committed any crimes.

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