The Uyghur women fighting China's surveillance stateMay 01, 2019
Amina Abduwayit, 38, a businesswoman from Urumqi who now lives in Zeytinburnu, remembers having her face scanned and inputted into the police database. “It was like a monkey show,” she said. “They would ask you to stare like this and that. They would ask you to laugh, and you laugh, and ask you to glare and you glare.” Abduwayit was also asked to give DNA and blood samples to the police. This was part of a larger, comprehensive campaign by the Chinese government to build a biometric picture of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population, and help track those deemed non-conformists. “The police station was full of Uyghurs,” Abduwayit says. “All of them were there to give blood samples.”
Finally, Abduwayit was made to give a voice sample to the police. “They gave me a newspaper to read aloud for one minute. It was a story about a traffic accident, and I had to read it three times. They thought I was faking a low voice.”
Halmurat Harri, a Finland-based Uyghur activist, visited the city of Turpan in 2016 and was shocked by the psychological impact of near-constant police checks. “You feel like you are under water,” he says. “You cannot breathe. Every breath you take, you’re careful.” He remembers driving out to the desert with a friend, who told him he wanted to watch the sunset. They locked their cellphones in the car and walked away. “My friend said, “tell me what’s happening outside. Do foreign countries know about the Uyghur oppression?” We talked for a couple of hours. He wanted to stay there all night.”
Abduwayit describes how they were afraid to turn the lights on early in the morning, for fear the police would think they were praying.