A newly leaked document paints an increasingly alarming picture of what appears to be a strategic campaign by Beijing to strip Muslim-majority Uighurs of their cultural and religious identity and suppress behaviour considered to be unpatriotic.
The document shows the most powerful insight yet into how China determined the fate of hundreds of thousands of Muslims held in a network of internment camps.
Listing the personal details of more than 3,000 individuals from the far western region of Xinjiang, it sets out in intricate detail the most intimate aspects of their daily lives.
The painstaking records – made up of 137 pages of columns and rows – include how often people pray, how they dress, whom they contact and how their family members behave.
The document is said to have come, at considerable personal risk, from the same source inside Xinjiang that leaked a batch of highly sensitive material published last year.
One of the world’s leading experts on China’s policies in Xinjiang, Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, believes the latest leak is genuine.
“This remarkable document presents the strongest evidence I’ve seen to date that Beijing is actively persecuting and punishing normal practices of traditional religious beliefs,” he says.
It contains details of the investigations into 311 main individuals, listing their backgrounds, religious habits, and relationships with many hundreds of relatives, neighbours and friends.
Verdicts written in a final column decide whether those already in internment should remain or be released, and whether some of those previously released need to return.
It is evidence that appears to directly contradict China’s claim that the camps are merely schools.
In an article analysing and verifying the document, Dr Zenz argues that it also offers a far deeper understanding of the real purpose of the system.
It allows a glimpse inside the minds of those making the decisions, he says, laying bare the “ideological and administrative micromechanics” of the camps.
Row 598 contains the case of a 38-year-old woman with the first name Helchem, sent to a re-education camp for one main reason: she was known to have worn a veil some years ago.
It is just one of a number of cases of arbitrary, retrospective punishment.
Others were interned simply for applying for a passport – proof that even the intention to travel abroad is now seen as a sign of radicalisation in Xinjiang.
In row 66, a 34-year-old man with the first name Memettohti was interned for precisely this reason, despite being described as posing “no practical risk”.
And then there’s the 28-year-old man Nurmemet in row 239, put into re-education for “clicking on a web-link and unintentionally landing on a foreign website”.
Again, his case notes describe no other issues with his behaviour.
The 311 main individuals listed are all from Karakax County, close to the city of Hotan in southern Xinjiang, an area where more than 90% of the population is Uighur.
Predominantly Muslim, the Uighurs are closer in appearance, language and culture to the peoples of Central Asia than to China’s majority ethnicity, the Han Chinese.
In recent decades the influx of millions of Han settlers into Xinjiang has led to rising ethnic tensions and a growing sense of economic exclusion among Uighurs.
Those grievances have sometimes found expression in sporadic outbreaks of violence, fuelling a cycle of increasingly harsh security responses from Beijing.
It is for this reason that the Uighurs has become the target – along with Xinjiang’s other Muslim minorities, like the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz – of the campaign of internment.
The “Karakax List”, as Dr Zenz calls the document, encapsulates the way the Chinese state now views almost any expression of religious belief as a signal of disloyalty. (Source: BBC)