Big Brother watching: China’s ‘thought police’ surveils, strikes fear in Muslim minority


Thousands belonging to a minority Muslim community in China’s Xinjiang province have allegedly been whisked off to and detained in state-owned “political indoctrination centers” as the government cracks down on growing “Islamic terrorism” in the country, the Associated Press (AP) said in a report.
Over the past year, mass disappearance of Uighur Muslims has instilled fear in the hearts of the marginalised ethnic community, which has been influenced by radical Islamic extremism, claims the government. Inhabited by 10 million Turkic speaking Uighurs, Xinjiang’s Uighur Autonomous Region now resembles a police state, with foot patrols, armored vehicles and round-the-clock surveillance tracking their every move.

Under the pretext of rooting out terrorism, the Chinese government has adopted a “strike hard” campaign following a series of attacks in 2013 and 2014 carried out by Uighur separatists. The Communist party has banned fasting during Ramzan, forbidden Azaan in state-sanctioned mosques, prohibited long beards and Islamic headwear and restricted use of the Turkic language. Harsh punishments are imposed for refusing to watch state TV or radio programmes.

The government has also adopted sophisticated surveillance systems, including a biometric data collection program which collates “three-dimensional portraits, voiceprints, DNA and fingerprints”, the AP report said.

“If we don’t do this, it will be like several years ago — hundreds will die,” propaganda official Bao Changhui told AP.
Earlier in April, the Human Rights Watch condemned the move to ban dozens of Muslim names like ‘Saddam’ and ‘Jihad’ on the grounds that they could “exaggerate religious fervour”. Children with banned names will not have access to public schools and other social benefits.
The Communist Party has denied allegations of religious discrimination, instead pointing to decades of economic investment in Xinjiang and concerted efforts, such as preferential college admissions, to bring the Uighur population into the mainstream.

It is a well-documented fact that Uighur Muslims have been fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan and also joined ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq. However, Beijing has not offered any concrete evidence of a foreign-directed terrorist organization working against the Chinese state that would warrant the crackdown on ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Even as it takes a hard-line stance on perceived Islamic extremism at home, China remains mostly aloof to reports of terrorist safe havens being nurtured by all-weather-ally Pakistan. Despite mounting pressure from the US, Islamabad has refused to step up its fight against terrorism and “allows terror groups like the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) to operate freely from its soil”, the Trump administartion said in a censorious report in July.

After endorsing the Xiamen declaration at the BRICS Summit 2017, which expressed concern for the first time on several Pakistan-based terror groups, China quickly backpedaled and attested to Islamabad’s “clear conscience” and “great sacrifices” in its counter-terror efforts.

China has repeatedly blocked India’s move to designate JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UN Security Council and also opposed calls for sanctions against 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed. Hitting out at Beijing’s double standards on combating terrorism, India had said such actions only undermined the international community’s resolve to fight terror.
This, in spite of concerns about terror groups in Pakistan that Chinese intelligence believes h as links to East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an influential separatist group in Uighur culture that has been designated as a terror outfit by the US and Britain.

Meanwhile, Uighur Muslims continue to live in the shadow of fear in Xinjiang, under a government that all but views them as the enemy. Big Brother is watching.
(With inputs from AP)