• Human Rights Watch obtained a leaked Chinese government list of 2,000 Uighur Muslims detained between 2016 and late 2018 in Aksu, Xinjiang.
  • Uighurs on that list were detained for reasons including “switching off their phone repeatedly,” “generally acting suspiciously,” and being “born after the 1980s,” Human Rights Watch said.
  • The Aksu used data from the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, China’s mass surveillance system that builds profiles of all Xinjiang residents.
  • Since 2016, China has detained at least one million Uighurs in hundreds of prison camps, which the country euphemistically calls “reeducation centers.”
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On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch published details of a dataset showing the reasons why approximately 2,000 people were detained in Aksu prefecture, Xinjiang, between mid-2016 and late 2018.

Human Rights Watch said that the list appears to come from a part of Aksu that is mostly Uighur, and the group said it is confident that all the people on the list are Uighurs.

Justifications used by officials on the Aksu list to detain the Uighurs included “switching off their phone repeatedly,” “generally acting suspiciously,” and being “born after the 1980s.”

Officials in Xinjiang have previously used obscure and ridiculous justifications to detain and imprison Uighurs, including setting clocks to a different time zone than Beijing’s, which China deems an act of rebellion.

The Aksu list, which was passed to Human Rights Watch by Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service in August 2020, “provides further insights into how China’s brutal repression of Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims is being turbocharged by technology,” said Maya Wang, senior 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?”

uighur muslims xinjian detainment camp
A view of a new suspected tier-four detainment camp in Kashgar, Xinjiang, China 
Google Earth

The people on the list comprise a small segment of some millions of Uighurs who have been detained in prison-like camps since 2016.

Beijing deems the mostly-Muslim Uighur community a terror threat akin to ISIS, and has worked to erase their culture and slash their birth rate with forced sterilizations, child quotas, and forced abortions.

Xinjiang officials have also collected granular details about Uighurs in a mass data-collection effort called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) since August 2016. The system has information including security and facial-recognition footage, license plate numbers, personal internet history, location, and other personal details.

The program collects data on all Xinjiang residents, including non-Uighurs, but Human Rights Watch said that officials used IJOP to flag the 2,000 detainees on the Aksu list.

KASHGAR, CHINA - JUNE 30, 2020. An old Uyghur man walks in Kashgar old city on June 30, 2020 in Kashgar, China. (Photo by David Liu/Getty Images)
An old Uyghur man walks in Kashgar old city on June 30, 2020 in Kashgar, China. 
David Liu/Getty Images

According to multiple reports, some Uighurs detained in Xinjiang have been forced to work for little to no pay in factories and production lines, some of which produce goods for major Western retailers.

Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple reportedly lobbied against the bill, which will now be voted on by the US Senate.

In September, the US government also banned the import of some clothing, computer, and hair products from Xinjiang.