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Chinese officials collecting DNA from Xinjiang residents, says new report

The Chinese government’s campaign has made it mandatory to collect data from all “focus personnel”, or citizens considered a threat to regional stability, regardless of age, the HRW said.

world Updated: Dec 13, 2017 18:13 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
China,restive Xinjiang region,Uyghur Muslims
File photo of an ethnic Uyghur man talking on the phone in front of the Id Kah Mosque in the old town of Kashgar in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China on March 22, 2017. (Reuters)

Authorities across the restive Xinjiang region in China’s far west are collecting biometric data and DNA samples from millions of citizens aged between 12 and 65, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report on Wednesday.

The ongoing campaign has made it mandatory to collect such data from all “focus personnel”, or citizens considered a threat to regional stability, regardless of age, the report said. It added that officials were collecting biodata in different ways.

The Chinese government has dismissed the report.

“This organisation has a habit of issuing irresponsible remarks,” foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a regular news briefing when he was asked about the report.

“You don’t need to take the remarks very seriously,” he added.

The HRW report said: “DNA and blood types are being collected through a free annual physical exams program called ‘Physicals for All’. It is unclear if the participants of the physicals are informed of the authorities’ intention to collect, store, or use sensitive DNA data.”

It quoted a report by the official Xinhua news agency dated November 1, 2017 that said 18.8 million people participated in the Physicals for All program in 2017.

“The mandatory data banking of a whole population’s biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms, and it’s even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free health care program,” HRW director Sophie Richardson said.

But the foreign ministry contended that the government’s program is only aimed at improving the lives of the residents of Xinjiang.

“Xinjiang’s stability and people’s happy and harmonious lives is a fact on the ground. Some people outside refuse to acknowledge this. The Chinese government is committed to enhancing the life of the people of Xinjiang,” spokesperson Lu said.

The report, however, said this new campaign was part of “pervasive restrictions” on Xijiang’s population comprising nearly 11 million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities.

“The Chinese government has imposed pervasive restrictions on their fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion. Since the appointment of Party Secretary Chen Quanguo in August 2016, the Xinjiang regional government has enacted further repressive policies, including restricting foreign travel andforcing those studying abroad to return, detaining thousands inpolitical education facilities and, and hiring thousands more as security personnel to monitor the population,” the report said.

The report quoted a documentposted on a Xinjiang government website that said the main goal of the new scheme “is to fully and accurately verify the real number of Xinjiang's population, to collect the images, fingerprints, iris scans, blood types, and DNA biometrics of those between the age of 12 and 65”.

The HRW report said a US-based company, Thermo Fisher Scientific, supplied the “Xinjiang police with some of these DNA sequencers”.

The campaign’s stated goal is to improve the delivery of health services and the HRW report said testimonies include where people received treatment for “previously undiagnosed illnesses, and in some cases saving their lives”.

First Published: Dec 13, 2017 16:29 IST