The architecture of repression: Unpacking Xinjiang’s governanceOctober 19, 2021
On 11 November 2018, at around 10:30am, staff members from the Neighbourhood Committee of Ürümqi’s Xinmin West Street escorted two residents to attend Anayit Abliz’s (阿纳依提· 阿布力孜) sentencing hearing at a ‘vocational education and training centre’, also known as a re-education camp. According to a police memo, the two men, aged 52 and 24, were the father and older brother of Abliz, who was 19 years old at the time.
An hour later at the hearing, Abliz and his family sat at a long table across from four Neighbourhood Committee staff members. Four representatives from the local procuratorate (检察院), China’s equivalent to a public prosecutor, were present up on a stage. The hearing, termed ‘Two Announcements, One Lecture’ (两告知一宣讲), was intended to ‘inform students of how they participated in terrorist and extremist activities and lecture [them] about the party and government’s policy of lenient treatment according to law.’
Abliz was informed that he would be sentenced to three years in prison for using a file-sharing app called Zapya (快牙) and a virtual private network (VPN) back in 2017. Abliz admitted to having used Zapya but said there was no evidence of him ever using a VPN.
‘He was dissatisfied with the verdict and disagrees,’ the memo says. However, ‘under the persuasion of his family members, he eventually signed the statement.’
In the next paragraph, the memo goes on to say, Abliz’s father and older brother were ‘emotionally stable’ on hearing the verdict, and ‘did not disclose to Abliz the fact that his mother had been detained for re-education (收教)’.
‘No other abnormalities were found,’ the memo concluded.
By the time Abliz had his sentence hearing, he had been detained for at least eight months. During that time, leaked police records show that his family members were closely monitored, their daily activities chronicled in a series of reports filed under the heading ‘Situation regarding persons who are detained or going through re-education’ (被收押、教育转化人员情况).
Within a single week in February 2018, a Neighbourhood Committee staff member surnamed Yang and at least three other cadres made six recorded visits to the Abliz family, according to police reports.
The two “Visit the People, Benefit the People, Bring Together the Hearts of the People” officials that visited Abliz’s family on 9 February 2018 found them at home watching television and chatting. One official asked about Abliz’s brother’s health, showing warmth as the manual instructed. His mother and sister did not go out that day. ‘Thoughts are stable and everything is normal,’ the cadres reported.
On 4 January 2019, days before Abliz’s 20th birthday and three months after his sentencing hearing, a re-education camp official phoned the Neighbourhood Committee to say that Abliz’s hand had been injured again. It was injured from a fall earlier and ‘relapsed’, the report says. The neighbourhood official told Abliz’s father about the injury and observed that, upon hearing the news: ‘His father was emotionally stable; his tone of voice was normal; there was no abnormal behaviour.’