A Surveillance State Unlike Any the World Has Ever SeenJuly 26, 2018
The sound of wailing sirens fills the air, armed trucks patrol the streets and fighter jets roar above the city.
The few hotels that still host a smattering of tourists are surrounded by high concrete walls.
Police in protective vests and helmets direct the traffic with sweeping, bossy gestures, sometimes yelling at those who don’t comply.
The train to Kashgar takes six hours and passes by more oasis towns and settlements, the names of which are synonymous with the Uighur resistance in China: Moyu, Pishan, Shache, Shule. All the train stations are surrounded by checkpoints and barbed wire fences. When the train stops at a platform, the train dispatcher is often accompanied by a police officer with either a billy club or a gun.
The station is guarded like a military base. Travelers must pass through three checkpoints and dozens of surveillance cameras to get to the platform.
[M]ost taxis in Kashgar are outfitted with two cameras. One is aimed at the passenger up front while the other points at those in the backseat. “That was imposed over a year ago,” one driver says. “The cameras are directly connected to Public Security. They turn them on and off whenever they want. We have no influence.”
“[C]onvenience police stations” . . . These bunker-like, barricaded and heavily guarded buildings now litter every crossroads of the major cities.
Chen also introduced a block leader system not unlike the old German “Blockwarts,” with members of the local Communist Party committee given powers to inspect family homes and interrogate them about their lives: Who lives here? Who visited? What did you talk about?
Many apartments have bar code labels on the inside of the front door which the official must scan to prove that he or she carried out the visit.
A grand modern museum in the city center charts their history. But anyone who enters must show an ID and there’s a barbed wire fence outside. A dozen surveillance cameras watch the surrounding park, complete with pond and playground.
The museum’s security guards wear helmets and flak jackets. Next to the baggage scanners at the entrance are protective shields used by police for crowd control. It “can all be purchased,” says an assistant in the museum shop. “On the other side of the street.”
[T]here is a store selling security equipment just opposite the museum: Helmets and bayonets, surveillance electronics, 12-packs of batons and, above all, protective vests. “300 yuan each,” says a salesperson. That’s about 40 euros. “But they only help against stab wounds. We’ve got bulletproof vests too, but they’re much more expensive. Do you have the paperwork?”
“There’s just been a new directive,” says one hotel manager in Turpan, holding up a stamped piece of paper. Guests must show IDs when they check in and every time they re-enter – however often they leave and return. More security staff also have to be employed.