Database Entry: “Like We Were Enemies in a War": China's Mass Internment, Torture, and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang
Surveillance In-home Surveillance by 'Relatives'

“Like We Were Enemies in a War": China's Mass Internment, Torture, and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang

June 11, 2021
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Local government officials in Xinjiang are responsible for gathering a huge amount of personal information about families from ethnic minority groups. A large portion of this information is gathered through invasive in-person interviews that occur in government offices and in people’s homes.

Aiman told Amnesty that local government officials classified households into three categories: “targeted” (usually those that had family members in the camps), “trusted” (normally government officials), and “ordinary” (everyone else). “Targeted” households were subjected to heightened in-person monitoring and electronic surveillance. Aiman also told Amnesty how government cadres used to visit people’s homes and gather information:
I had to gather information on [several dozen families in my area]… We had to gather information on many things, on their relatives abroad, about whether they had given their children Islamic names… I don’t know how all the information was used… [We didn’t gather all the information at once]… We would get an order… for example, to go and get a passport… In 2016 we had to gather everyone’s passports… Or to find out if anyone [from the household] had been travelling to Kazakhstan… Or who prays… [In 2016 and 2017] we just asked them about praying… They didn’t know how it would be used at the beginning.

Mehmet, who also worked for the government, told Amnesty how he was responsible for gathering detailed information about families in the town he worked in:
We visited houses with the auxiliary police… we asked people if they had visited other countries, whether they had WhatsApp or other forbidden apps on their phone… [The assistant police] brought a device to check if people’s phones had any religious content on them or any Kazakh songs… or anything else forbidden… They brought a portable PC and small electronic device that looked like a router… We also had special paper to take fingerprints and a ‘family visit phone’ to take photos of the household and to make voice recordings.

According to Mehmet, cadres were required to stay with families they were responsible for – their “relatives” – five days a month. He said, other government officials would periodically check on the cadres in the middle of the night to make sure that they were actually staying at the house. Other people also mentioned that the officials staying at in their homes were also being monitored to make sure that they were present.146 According to Aiman, all “targeted” households were required to have a government cadre stay overnight in their house three times a week. Numerous former camp detainees Amnesty interviewed said that they were required to host government cadres in their houses several nights a week or a month after they were released from detention. Former detainees also reported that, while they were in the camp, their family members were required to have government minders stay with them. Some former detainees reported that cadres checked in on them during the day but did not stay overnight.

The cadres took pictures of them and their family members, monitored their behaviour, and tried to teach them “correct” ideology. Minders also checked homework from the language and ideology classes members of ethnic minorities were forced to attend. Gauhar told Amnesty that after she was released from a camp, minders would come and inspect her house every day to make sure she was home, and they would check her homework from the night school. “If you passed the homework test they leave, or they would stay and help you do the homework,” she said. Batima told Amnesty International that when her father was sent to a camp, she and her mother were forced to move back to their home village and have a government minder stay with them. She described what the minder did while staying with the family:
She ate with us. Listened to what we were saying. Told us about politics. About our ‘crimes’. For example, [she said:] ‘Do not go abroad. Do not contact the outside world. Be thankful for the government. Confess that your father committed crimes.’… She stayed overnight… She stayed in the same room as me… She took photos of us. And she told us to attend classes.