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Big Brother vs China’s Uighurs

Constant surveillance, cultural suppression and ‘re-education’ are the day-to-day reality for China’s Muslim minorities. And the technology giants that enable it are closer than we might think

By Darren Byler   October 2020

In the summer of 2017, nearly all the men in Sholpan Amirken’s family were taken to “re-education camps.” Aside from Sholpan’s husband, only the women were spared. In the months that followed, the police regularly inspected Sholpan’s home and the women, children and the solitary man left behind.

The family had been under watch before the men were taken. Since three brothers-in-law were imams in local Kazakh mosques, it was assumed that the family was “extremist.” In Xinjiang, the vast northwest Chinese region where the Turkic Muslim groups—the Uighurs and Kazakhs—make up the bulk of the population, 90,000 surveillance workers had been tasked with carrying out the “re-education” of those deemed devoutly religious. These police contractors, often from China’s majority Han ethnicity, scanned people’s bodies and belongings with a metal detector. They were looking for electronics such as unreported smartphones, SD cards, hard drives, language learning devices—anything that…

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