Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report released on May 4, 2023 said that Chinese police in Xinjiang rely on a master list of 50,000 multimedia files to flag Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim residents for interrogation.
HRW conducted a forensic investigation into the metadata of a master list of 50,000 multimedia files which is part of a large database (52GB) of over 1,600 data tables from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region leaked to the United States media organization the Intercept in 2019. The investigation found among other things that:
- police conducted nearly 11 million searches on a total of 1.2 million mobile phones in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital city of 3.5 million residents during 9 months from 2017 to 2018. The phone search was enabled by Xinjiang’s automated police mass surveillance systems.
- over half of what Xinjiang police considers “violent and terrorist” – 57 percent – are common Islamic religious materials, including readings of every surah (chapter) of the Quran.
“The Chinese government’s abusive use of surveillance technology in Xinjiang means that Uyghurs who simply store the Quran on their phone may trigger a police interrogation,” said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch. “Concerned governments should identify the technology companies involved in this mass surveillance and social control industry and take appropriate action to end their involvement.”
Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to “urgently establish an independent, international investigation into grave rights violations and the suppression of fundamental freedoms in Xinjiang by the Chinese government against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims”