Weekly Brief May 18th
World Uyghur Congress, 18 May 2017
World Uyghur Congress Releases Comprehensive Human Rights Report
The World Uyghur Congress released its annual report on the human rights situation in East Turkestan covering events of 2016. The report continues from the previous two years in presenting a detailed review of China’s actions in East Turkestan vis-à-vis the Uyghur population there and provides in-depth analysis of the most critical issues facing Uyghurs. The goal of the report is to bring renewed attention to recent human rights violations perpetrated by the Chinese government against Uyghurs in East Turkestan.
The report will serve as a resource for experts, NGOs and governments to better understand the reality on the ground and to make informed decisions about how best to approach China and other actors to improve the situation. In addition, because useful and reliable information coming from the region remains a premium, the hope has been to highlight the most important cases of the last year and situate them within a broader historical context of Chinese policy for decades.
In terms of new developments illustrated in the report, the year 2016 saw no relief in terms of the continued harassment of Uyghurs living in East Turkestan. The CPC extended its outright assault by effectively criminalising even the most basic aspects of Uyghur life.
The government continued to engage in arbitrary detention, the outright denial of legal rights, and collective punishment of the Uyghur population, while targeting religious and cultural freedom, freedom of expression, assembly and movement with renewed vigour.
China Begins DNA Testing on Uyghurs
It was first reported by Human Rights Watch earlier this week that the Xinjiang regional government intends to accelerate the collection and indexing of DNA from individuals. The rights group voiced strong concerns over privacy rights as currently no strict guidelines exist as to how DNA samples may be stored, shared or used in conjunction with, or in isolation from, criminal cases.
China already uses the system to draw blood from ordinary individuals who have not been convicted of a crime. The searchable database called the “Forensic Science DNA Database System” was established in 2000 as part of a larger policing project known as Golden Shield. By 2015, the database included entries from over 40 million unique individuals, but a mere 1.5 million are connected to physical evidence related to crime scenes.
The physical collection of samples has also been problematic in the past as netizens online have described how police officers have come to their homes, schools and workplaces to collect samples without so much as a warrant or advanced notice.
As with other legislation affecting Uyghurs in East Turkestan, the rules involving the collection of DNA are broad enough to snare nearly anyone regional authorities deem to be a threat. In the context of the Uyghur population in 2017, this could easily include those who attend the mosque or participate in any religious activities.
Restrictive government policies in East Turkestan continue to converge and amplify one another. As cultural or religious expression is increasingly restricted, Uyghurs are detained and face China’s increasingly severe criminal justice system, including renewed attention to DNA collection.
China to Cooperate With Turkey on Counter-Terrorism
During a meeting on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on May 13th, Chinese President Xi Jinping told his counterpart, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, that the two countries should deepen their cooperation in terms of counter-terrorism. The news builds on previous statements made by both leaders along similar lines. Real concerns exist for Uyghurs in both countries – Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers have been accepted by Turkey for decades fleeing Chinese repression, and real concerns exist in terms of Beijing’s framing of those leaving the country as criminals.
Reports Continue to Emerge Over Uyghur Students Being Returned Home
News continues to break over reports that Uyghur students overseas and their families back home have been targeted by the Chinese government. The World Uyghur Congress learned that thousands of Uyghur students studying abroad were ordered to return home before May 20 by the regional government in East Turkestan. Thus far, students studying in Egypt, Turkey, France, Australia, and the United States have already been affected by the orders.