Uighur activist calls on world leaders to stop China spying on ethnic minorities


An Uighur activist has recently urged world leaders to take a tougher line on China’s use of high-tech surveillance to monitor and crackdown on its ethnic minorities after his mother was detained and then imprisoned.

Ferkat Jawdat, 27, a software engineer who moved to the United States in 2011 with three siblings to join his father, turned to activism last year after his mother Minaiwaier Tuersun was sent to a camp.

More than one million Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in massive complexes built in China’s northwest Xinjiang region since 2017, according to the United Nations.

“More and more camps are being built. I’m not seeing any end to what’s happening to our people,” said Jawdat, who will address the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual event, Trust Conference, in London on Thursday.

Beijing has denied any mistreatment and says the sites are “vocational training centres”, but former detainees have described interrogations, torture and brutal indoctrination.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S. think tank, says Uighurs are being used for forced labour.

Jawdat believed many people were targeted for having family outside China. None of his family have committed crimes and no reason has been given for their internment, he said.

After he started speaking out, his mother was sentenced to seven years in prison, and an aunt and uncle to eight years.

But his mother became so ill in jail that she was returned to the camp. She was released in May but remains under watch.

“Her cell phone is being monitored all the time. Everything we say is being listened to,” Jawdat said.

The United States said last week it was deeply troubled by reports the Chinese government had harassed or detained relatives of Uighur activists who made their stories public.

Jawdat said there was also evidence China was using Uighurs for forced labour in factories in Xinjiang which produces most of China’s cotton.

China insists Xinjiang is its internal affair, and the issue there is not a religious or ethnic one, but about preventing terror and separatism.

Human rights groups say cutting-edge mass surveillance is central to China’s campaign of repression, with officials routinely scanning Uighurs’ ID cards, searching their phones, and taking photos and fingerprints.

Checkpoints and cameras are everywhere and facial recognition cameras are set up in major cities to pick up the faces of Uighurs and other minorities.

Last month the United States blacklisted some of China’s top tech companies, including leaders in facial recognition technology that it said were implicated in the crackdown. It also announced visa restrictions on some Chinese officials. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)