Surviving the Crackdown in XinjiangApril 05, 2021
While they were squeezed together, the woman explained that she was a student who had been arrested for using a file-sharing program called Zapya to download music. Officials using IJOP were expected to log any “suspicious” apps—there were dozens, but many residents did not know what they were. The woman told Sabit that two Uyghur men locked up in the station, a classmate of hers and a butcher, had been detained because of Zapya, too.
At the police station, Sabit noticed that large numbers of Uyghurs were being brought in to have their information uploaded. Many had been stopped at checkpoints while entering Kuytun; others had been flagged by IJOP as untrustworthy. Most were elderly, or women, or children. The younger men, it seemed, had already been locked up.
[Xinjiang Party Secretary] Chen Quanguo portrayed his crackdown as a means of bringing order to Xinjiang, but, for people inside the system, the shifting rules and arbitrary enforcement created a condition close to anarchy. A police officer told Sabit that before she could leave she had to sign a document expressing regret and pledging not to repeat her offense. Sabit said that she didn’t know what her offense was.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“I was abroad,” she said.
“Then write that you’ll not make that mistake again,” he said. When she hesitated, he told her to just write down any mistake. Sabit found a Communist Party magazine in the station’s waiting area and copied down some of its propaganda.
A few women, their eyes red from crying, were already there, and more arrived later. They were all sure that they had been rounded up in a dragnet preceding the National Congress. Some had been brought in for using WhatsApp. One was on leave from college in America; she had been detained for using a V.P.N. to turn in her homework and to access her Gmail account. A seventeen-year-old had been arrested because her family once went to Turkey on a holiday.
The Uyghur woman who was processed with Sabit had been assigned to the cell, too. She was a Communist Party propagandist. Years earlier, she told Sabit, she had booked a flight to Kashgar, but a sandstorm prevented the plane from taking off, so the airline had placed everyone on the flight in a hotel. Later, police officers in Kuytun detained her, and told her that two of the other people in the hotel were deemed suspect. Even though she was working for the Party, the mere fact of being Uyghur and staying in a hotel where others were under suspicion was enough to raise alarms.