China Cables: Mobile phone app key tool to watch Muslims in Xinjiang

Updated on Nov 25, 2019 09:33 PM IST
Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been held in camps even before they have committed any crime – many simply because they had used the app Zapya, developed by a Beijing-based startup, to download the Quran
An ethnic Uighur demonstrator wears a mask as she attends a protest against China in front of the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.(REUTERS)
An ethnic Uighur demonstrator wears a mask as she attends a protest against China in front of the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.(REUTERS)
Hindustan Times, Beijing | BySutirtho Patranobis

A popular mobile file-sharing application has been a key tool for the Chinese government to carry out surveillance on the Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang where a million of them are interred in locked-down camps with watchtowers and 24/7 surveillance.

The northwestern province of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is described the Communist Party of China (CPC)-ruled government as a “key battlefield in the fight against terrorism and [religious] extremism in China.”

A cache of official documents leaked to a consortium of international journalists revealed that the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been held in camps even before they have committed any crime – many simply because they had used the app Zapya, developed by a Beijing-based startup, to download the Quran and share religious teachings.

“A leak of highly classified Chinese government documents, the China Cables, now reveal that since at least July 2016, Chinese authorities have been targeting users of the Zapya app, known in Chinese as Kuai Ya (fast tooth), as part of their crackdown against the Muslim Uyghur population,” said the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The app’s developer didn’t respond to ICIJ’s request for comment.

The ICIJ said the “…highly classified Chinese government documents reveal the operations manual for running the mass detention camps in Xinjiang and exposed the mechanics of the region’s system of mass surveillance”.

The Chinese government has dismissed the allegations, reiterating that the camps are vocational education and training institutes.

A government policy paper issued in August called terrorism a “malignant tumour” and said “…terrorism and extremism are the common enemies of humanity and the fight against terrorism and extremism is the shared responsibility of the international community”.

“These centres are education and training institutions in nature. To meet the needs of fighting terrorism and extremism, these centers deliver a curriculum that includes standard spoken and written Chinese, understanding of the law, vocational skills, and deradicalisation,” the paper said.

Responding to questions from ICIJ media partner the Guardian, the Chinese government called the leaked documents “pure fabrication and fake news.” In a statement, the press office of its UK embassy said: “There are no so-called “detention camps” in Xinjiang. Vocational education and training centres have been established for the prevention of terrorism.”

According to ICIJ, one of the leaked document included in the China Cables instructs government officials to locate and arrest people described as “violent terrorists and extremist elements who used the ‘Kuai Ya’ software to spread audio and video with violent terroristic characteristics.”

The ICIJ report said the mass-detention operation is part of a larger push by Beijing to suppress political dissent and religious expression, particularly among minorities in a nation dominated by Han Chinese.

The goal, experts told ICIJ, is to reinforce Communist Party doctrine, a drive that has accelerated in recent years.

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