Friends and relatives from various parts of the world are relaying back to us how Chinese nationals – rich & poor, of Han descent and of Uyghur descent – are fleeing this once vibrant economy. Whilst we try to link these piecemeal narratives of flight with the economic slide of the Chinese economy, Uyghur activist, Tahir Izgil, has penned a book on the industrial scale repression taking place in China. His book, “Waiting to be Arrested at Night: a Uyghur Poet’s Memoir of China’s Genocide” has been translated by Joshua L Freeman. The Guardian has published an adapted extract from the book.

The first thing we learn from the extract is the mass scale of arrests – which seem to have started in 2015 – taking place inside China: “Mass arrests had begun in Kashgar. The wave of arrests was so immense that existing detention facilities in the city – police station lockups, prisons, holding centres, labour camps, drug-detox facilities – had been quickly overwhelmed. Within days, numerous schools, government offices and even hospitals had been converted into detention and re-education centres hastily outfitted with iron doors, window bars and barbed wire. Rumours spread that, outside the city, construction was proceeding rapidly on multiple new so-called “study centres”, each meant to house tens of thousands.

According to Dilber, the primary targets of this round of arrests were devout individuals from Xinjiang’s mostly Muslim Uyghur population. In addition, any Uyghur who had been abroad, for whatever reason, was to be detained…
From four villages in Turpan District, all Uyghurs who had received religious education at any point in their lives were to be sent to the centre for 60 days of training. Their food and accommodation would be provided on site by the government. Except in special circumstances, they would not be permitted outside the centre.”

Secondly, the Chinese authorities are increasingly using high tech means to identify the people they want to detain: “From what I understood, in Urumqi as in Kashgar, the mass arrests first targeted devout individuals, people who had been abroad, and those with livelihoods outside the state system. The scope of the arrests then gradually expanded to other targets as well. It remained a mystery, though, how the authorities determined who would be taken. Anyone who asked the police why they had been arrested was told only that “your name was on the list they sent down”. There was no way to know if or when your name would show up on the list. We all lived within this frightening uncertainty.

While I was chatting with some friends one day, the conversation turned to the lists. One of our friends, a bit of a computer whiz, told us these forms were very likely generated by a specially designed computer program. And it was true that there had been much talk lately of a terrifying networked police system.

We had heard that, beginning in late 2016, everyone’s data was being entered into a system known as the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). On the basis of this data, the police – and especially the neighbourhood police – marked the file of each individual they considered dangerous. Since everyone’s ID cards were linked via the internet to the IJOP, anyone with a mark in their file would set off the siren when they scanned their ID card at the ubiquitous police checkpoints, and would be apprehended on the spot. Uyghurs called these marks “dots”. If someone was detained due to their file being marked, people would say they were “arrested because they had a dot”. More and more people had been discovering of late that these dreadful dots had been applied to them as well.”

And the third feature of this very modern form of repression is the use by the Chinese authorities of neighbours to spy on their neighbours: “I asked my friend how the authorities determined whether “graduates” of this study centre had sufficiently reformed themselves. According to him, each neighbourhood’s security cadre kept tabs on the graduates and evaluated their degree of reformation. A neighbour of theirs, after completing his “studies” at the centre, had travelled to a nearby village on some business. While there, he said his Friday prayers in the village mosque. The cadres responsible for that mosque immediately informed the security officer in the man’s neighbourhood that he had entered a mosque where he wasn’t registered. The neighbour was taken away to an even stricter “study centre” housed in the city police department’s detention facility….

According to my mother, the neighbourhood committee had installed a camera by the front door of each apartment in her complex. The residents had to pay for the cameras; my parents handed over 280 yuan (about £30) to the neighbourhood committee to have a camera installed in front of their door.

These cameras monitored the people entering and exiting each apartment. Since a fair number of people were needed to watch so many video feeds, the neighbourhood committee hired a bunch of young lowlifes from the neighbourhood at a minimal salary. Fancying themselves policemen, they took to the job with relish. Practically everyone in my parents’ complex knew I had spent time in prison. If we visited my parents’ apartment, the goons monitoring their apartment camera could recognise and report me. Or someone at the neighbourhood’s mandatory nightly political meetings could fulfil their denunciation responsibilities by informing on me.”

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