Leaked data reveals how China detains Uighur Muslims for growing beards, internet browsing
The database reveals the main reasons for the detention of more than 300 people on the edge of Xinjiang’s Taklamakan desert. It shows that religion and family ties play a key role behind the internment of China’s minority Uighur Muslims.
A leaked database has exposed how China has determined the fate of hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims by sending them to notorious detention camps.
The newly-revealed database -- known as the “Karakax list” after the county where it was compiled -- comprises 137 pages and explains in detail the main reasons for the detention of more than 300 people on the edge of Xinjiang’s Taklamakan desert.
The records include details like how often people pray, how they dress, whom they contact and how their family members behave.
According to the document, growing a beard, wearing a veil or accidentally visiting a foreign website were among the justifications for sending Uighurs to China’s detention camps.
The reveal casts doubt on Beijing’s claim to be conducting a re-education campaign to root out extremism.
But denying any wrongdoing, China maintains it is combating terrorism and religious extremism.
How Uighurs are being targeted?
On the database, detainees and their families are tracked and classified by rigid, well-defined categories, reported the Guardian.
Households are designated as “trustworthy” or “not trustworthy,” and their attitudes are graded as “ordinary” or “good”. Families have “light” or “heavy” religious “atmospheres”, and the document keeps count of how many relatives of each detainee are in prison or have been sent to a “training centre”.
Officials used these categories to determine how suspicious a person was, even if they had not committed any crimes.
Other reasons listed for internment include “minor religious infection”, “disturbs other persons by visiting them without reasons”, “relatives abroad”, “thinking is hard to grasp” and “untrustworthy person born in a certain decade”.
One of the world's leading experts on China's policies in Xinjiang, Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, believes the latest leak is genuine, the BBC reported.
"This remarkable document presents the strongest evidence I've seen to date that Beijing is actively persecuting and punishing normal practices of traditional religious beliefs," he says.
The document showed that Karakax officials explicitly targeted people for activities that included going abroad, getting a passport, installing foreign software or clicking on a link to a foreign website.
It reveals that one 38-year-old woman with the first name Helchem, was sent to a re-education camp for one main reason: She was known to have worn a veil some years ago.
It is just one of a number of cases of arbitrary, retrospective punishment.
Others were interned simply for applying for a passport - proof that even the intention to travel abroad is now seen as a sign of radicalisation in Xinjiang.
And then there was a 28-year-old man named Nurmemet, who was put into re-education for "clicking on a web-link and unintentionally landing on a foreign website".
The 311 main individuals listed are all from Karakax County, close to the city of Hotan in southern Xinjiang, an area where more than 90% of the population is Uighur.
The database also says that the Chinese government focused on religion as a reason for detention — not just political extremism, as authorities claim, but ordinary activities such as praying, attending a mosque, or even growing a long beard.
It also shows the role of family: People with detained relatives were far more likely to end up in a camp themselves, uprooting and criminalising entire families.
The database indicates much of this information is collected by officials stationed at mosques, sent to visit homes and posted in communities.
This information is then compiled in a dossier mentioning each subject's relatives, community and religious background.
The system in Xinjiang is fuelled by “endless cycles of suspicion by association”, said Zenz, who received the documents and vetted their authenticity.
The goal, he said, was “to eliminate risk by achieving complete state control over individuals, families, communities and regions”.
Late in 2019, two caches of Communist party documents, published by the New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, revealed that top Xinjiang officials ordered the camps to be run like prisons.