Report documents extensive grassroots policing of Uyghurs in Xinjiang

RFA. 20 October 2021

Below is an article published by RFA. Photo:AFP.

Scores of Chinese government bodies are engaged in an elaborate whole-of-government campaign of repression targeting Muslim Uyghurs in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, according to report published this week by an Australian think tank.

The report by the independent, nonpartisan Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) details the deep involvement of Chinese government agencies in a systematic effort to suppress the Uyghurs and their culture that has drawn accusations of genocide in several Western capitals.

The report titled “The Architecture of Repression: Unpacking Xinjiang’s Governance” is the latest document presenting evidence of the ramping up since 2014 of systematic human rights abuses of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The authors of the 80-page report reviewed thousands of Chinese-language sources, including leaked police records and government budget documents never before published, to map and analyze the mechanisms used by the Chinese government in the XUAR from 2014 to 2021, a period of mounting repression.

“The project maps out and analyzes Xinjiang’s vast and opaque bureaucratic structure that has operationalized the party-state’s war on Uyghurs,” tweeted report co-author Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, an Australian policy analyst and journalist known for exposing human rights abuses in China.

“Xinjiang’s community-based control mechanisms are part of a national push to enhance grassroots governance, which seeks to mobilize the masses to help stamp out dissent and instability and to increase the party’s domination in the lowest reaches of society,” the report says.

The research — funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office — sheds light on the implementation of five policies, including one the authors call the “Trinity” mechanism, to penetrate the everyday lives of Uyghurs in the XUAR at the grassroots level.

Introduced at the beginning of a 2014 counterterrorism campaign in the XUAR and later implemented throughout the region, the ‘Trinity’ mechanism ensures that neighborhood or village committee officials, police officers, and teams of officials who visit or occupy Uyghur homes co-manage every neighborhood and village.

“In Xinjiang, the neighborhood or village committee is the principal arbitrator of the re-education processes,” the report says. “During the Re-education Campaign, the Trinity mechanism holds at least two daily meetings: a ‘morning dispatch’ to assign home visits and ‘investigations’, and an ‘evening evaluation’ to decide what actions to take in response to those ‘investigations’, including whether any individuals should be sent away for re-education.”

China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of internment camps since 2017. Beijing says the camps are vocational training centers designed to combat extremism and has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has mistreated Uyghurs living in Xinjiang.

“In some cases, individuals are stopped at checkpoints and interrogated at local police stations by intelligence officers before being sent to the camps,” says the report.

“When they’re released, they return to the Neighborhood Committee’s ‘management and control,’” it says, referring to the organization responsible for local party control.

The four other policies are the use of police substations in Xinjiang neighborhoods and villagers; a grid management system in which a local manager and other staff report potential problems in their communities; the compulsory Fanghuiju program in which majority Han Chinese officials and sometimes civilians are mobilized to visit or occupy the homes of Uyghur families; and a program under which neighborhoods grids are divided into micro-units of 10 households.

Tracking ‘enemy movements’

Xinjiang’s community-based control mechanisms are part of a national push to enhance grassroots control, which seeks to mobilise the masses to help stamp out dissent and instability and to increase the party’s domination of the lowest reaches of society.

The report cites the example of 18-year-old Anayit Abliz from Shuimogou district in the XUAR’s capital Urumqi (in Chinese, Wulumuqi), who was caught using a file-sharing app in 2017 and was interned in a detention camp to await a sentence hearing by his neighborhood committee.

Leaked police records show that during this time, committee officials closely monitored the teenager’s family members, going so far as to visit them six times in a single week in February 2018, and recording their daily activities in a series of reports.

The ASPI report says many Uyghurs come under suspicion after they are flagged by the Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC), the Chinese Communist Party body responsible for the country’s law-and-order system, including the XUAR’s mass detention program.

The PLAC manages the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), a predictive policing system that officials use to assign millions of investigations, through the Counterterrorism and Stability Maintenance Command, a powerful new party organ born of the re-education campaign.

Police records from Urumqi indicate that the PLAC sends push notifications of “micro clues” via the IJOP to neighborhood committees and police when irregularities are detected, such as Uyghurs having an unexpected visitor in their homes, driving cars that do not belong to them, receiving overseas phone calls, or using file-sharing apps.

“In police reports, these often innocuous acts are described as ‘enemy movements’ or ‘important intelligence,’” the report says.

Dilshat Rishit, spokesman of the World Uyghur Congress based in Germany, said that ASPI’s report is another document that “exposes China’s horrific treatment and mass surveillance of the Uyghur people before the international community.”

“It’s clear that China cannot hide the fact that it’s committing genocide and crimes against humanity towards the Uyghur people in East Turkestan,” he told RFA, using the Uyghurs’ preferred name for the XUAR.

“In light of the new report, we urge the international community to take proactive and effective measures, including sanctions, to hold Chinese officials responsible for their crimes and stop the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity,”
Dilshat said.

‘Sheer lies’

In a statement issued Tuesday in response to the report, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), an international cross-party group of legislators, called on democratic states “to take urgent, coordinated action to protect Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities” in the XUAR.

“Further, we request ASPI to share with IPAC, governments, and other relevant bodies the list of culpable officials referenced in their report so that sanctions can be pursued where appropriate,” IPAC said. “Those responsible for perpetrating these abuses must be held to account for their actions.”

China has repeatedly denounced reports by ASPI, calling a 2020 report on the destruction of mosques “pure slander” and calling the credibility of the think tank into question.

On Monday, the day before the report was issued, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the “so-called ‘oppression’ and ‘forced labor’” of the Uyghurs in the XUAR mentioned by U.S. President Joe Biden at the University of Connecticut on Oct. 15, were “sheer lies.”

“Xinjiang now enjoys social stability, economic development, solidarity among ethnic groups and harmony among religions,” he said. “People of all ethnic groups live a happy and fulfilling life, with all rights and interests prescribed by law fully guaranteed.”

“The so-called human rights issues in Xinjiang are an outright political conspiracy,” said Zhao. “The true intention is to undermine prosperity and stability in Xinjiang and contain China’s development.”