Some highly classified Chinese government documents have been revealed and details the functions, operating mechanisms, and process, of the mass detention camps in Xinjiang, eerily displaying a type of Orwellian system of mass surveillance and “predictive policing.” These China Cables, which landed in the hands of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, includes a list of guidelines, approved by the region’s top chief, that is a manual used to deal with the Muslim Uighurs and other minorities in these camps. Other information features the usage of artificial intelligence by guidance of massive data collection through an analysis system to select entire categories of Xinjiang residents for detention.
The manual, referred to as a “telegram,” are instructions for the camp staff to adhere to and includes preventive measures to stop escapes, maintaining secrecy about the camps, maintaining methods to force indoctrination, controlling disease outbreaks, managing family visitation times, and even when to using the bathroom. The document dated back to 2017 and is a behavior-modification “points” system to reward and punish inmates. It also revealed the minimum amount of time served in detention, which is a year. But, six ex-detainees have suggested that some are released sooner. The classified briefings exposes the potential and the area of the Chinese government’s artificial-intelligence-powered policing stance, which analytically aims to predict crimes on computer-generated data. Experts say this system, which is used on policing and military contexts, reveals the progress of technology to empower industrial-scale human rights abuses.
The China Cables details the strategies of using this technology to its fullest through obtaining personal data by warrantless searches, facial recognition cameras, and other ways to arrest people for detention such as being flagged for using certain popular mobile phone apps. The documents also exposes the details on how to arrest Uighur with foreign citizenship and to track Xinjiang Uighurs living out of the country, which some have been deported back; others who assist the Chinese government are the Chinese embassies and consulates abroad.
These cables mark the important advancement of what the world knows about the largest internment camps of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II. In the last two years, data from ex-inmates, anecdotal sources, and satellite images have shown government run-camps in Xinjiang big enough to hold a million people. They provide an outline of massive data collection, surveillance, and policing. An article by the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/16/world/asia/china-xinjiang-documents.html) gives insight into the steps leading to these mass detention camps. It represents the structure of the camps, severe conditions of camps, and regulations for everyday inmate’s daily routines. Adrian Zenz, a fellow in China, studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., has reviewed the documents and stated: “It really shows that from the onset, the Chinese government had a plan for how to secure the vocational training centers, how to lock in the ‘students’ into their dorms, how to keep them there for at least a year. It’s very, very important that these documents are from 2017, because that’s when the whole re-education campaign started.”
In response to ICIJ and its partner the Guardian, about the camps and surveillance program, the Chinese government, denying it, called the leaked data “pure fabrication and fake news.” The press office of the Chinese embassy in the UK stated that there were no mass detention camps and they were only vocational training centers. Furthermore, they commented that between 1990’s and 2016, thousands of innocent people got killed in Xinjiang and they are only taking preventative measures to restore the peace and prosperity in that region. It continued on saying that everyone was just there for job training purposes and everyone is free to leave as they please and the local government takes care of the children. Along with that, they indicated that in 2018, tourists increased by 40% and the GDP went up by 6%. They also had published seven white papers through the State Council Information Office to show that it is what it is.
The leaked documents, the China Cables documents, have been verified by linguists and experts. It includes James Mulvenon, a director of Intelligence integration at SOS International LLC, an intelligence and information technology contractor for some U.S. government agencies; he said these documents were “very authentic” and they “adhere 100% to all of the classified document templates that I’ve ever seen.” More than 75 journalists from ICIJ and 17 media partner organizations came together to publish and report on the truth of these documents. The leaked documents included the operations manual, nine Chinese-language pages from November 2017 containing more than two dozen instructions for overseeing the camps and four briefings also in Chinese, which was the guidelines for the mass surveillance and policing programs analyzing data from Xinjiang (this was revealed by Human Rights Watch). Both types of documents were marked “secret” and approved by top region security official, Zhu Hailun. These were distributed to the camp workers, party officers, and police in that region. Hailun did not respond to any questions via press or fax.
Uighurs, speaking mostly in Turkic language, have lived in the Xinjiang region for more than 1,000 years; they adopted Islam after interacting with Muslim traders. Mostly of the Muslim faith now, they now account for almost 11 million people in the area, where 92% of the 1.4 billion population is of Han Chinese ethnicity; they have faced economic marginalization and political discrimination as an ethnic minority in the past.
However the recent plight of the Uighur Muslims comes from the conflict with President Xi Jinping’s campaign of a nationwide conformity of a non-rebellious loyalty to the Communist Party doctrine and Han cultural norms. There has been conflicts between the Uighurs, Chinese government, and the Han Chinese population, which has turned violent at times. In 2009, the Uighurs rioted in Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi; they killed 200 people, whom were mostly of Han Chinese descent. In 2013, they committed a series of attacks and killed dozens in a few Chinese cities. A Uighur Islamist group claimed that at least one of those attacks came from them. There were also reports that came out exposing some Uighurs who joined the Islamic state abroad. Beijing came out with harsh restrictions, blaming Uighur separatism and lslamic extremism. These restrictions include restrictions on religious practice, beards being banned and also many forms of Muslim prayer, and some forms of religious clothing such as burkas and face veils.
In 2017, President Xi Jinping campaigned a vicious movement to suppress cultural, political, and religious diversity through mass detention and forced assimilation in Xinjiang. Reports and witnesses came out exposing facts of large numbers of people disappearing in the region. In some villages, the police had taken away up to 40% of the male population. A 40-year-old woman by the name of Tursunay Ziavdun, who now lives in Kazakhstan and spent 11 months in a Xinjiang mass detention camp talks about being arrested and how her brother also get detained.
Although the Chinese government tried to keep it a secret, by late 2017, journalists, academics, and other researchers exposed it all through satellite images, leaked and government documents, and witnesses, showing the so called vocational training centers as mass detention centers, surrounded by guards and fences. In October of 2018, Xinjiang’s governor, Shohrat Zakir, had to confirm that there was an existence of a system due to undeniable reports and truth. But he defensively stated that the purpose was to de-radicalize people suspected of terrorism or those wanting to support extremism. Just in August of 2019, an official white paper by the government issued a proclamation of the success of these “vocational training centers” resulted in no terror attacks.
Contradictory to the proclamation, the China Cables counter the statement of the Chinese government. Whereas, the government characterizes the camps as charitable social programs providing free training and meals, the leaked documents instruct arrests in almost any circumstance and the general purpose was to indoctrinate the government beliefs.
The extra-long “telegram,” signed with Zhu’s name and labeled with “ji mi,” meaning “secret,” is the presentation of the implementation of a master plan for mass camps internment with a number of guidelines. The manual is titled, “Opinions on the Work of Further Strengthening and Standardizing Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers,” which was issued by Xinjiang Autonomous Region’s Political and Legal Affairs Commission, Communist Party security in Xinjiang. The instructions varied from toilet breaks to conditions of seeing loved ones; inmates are referred as “students” and requirements listed to “graduate.” It importantly outlines the strategies and process to secure the camps with guard posts, patrols, video surveillance, alarms, and other security type things associated with prisons, to prevent escapes. Dormitory doors were double-locked to secure people from being able to escape during periods of meal times, family visits, toilet breaks, etc…”Students” are permitted to leave only under special circumstances and sickness but they would be watched while away. It also included the requirement and control that detainees must remain in the camps for at least a year. There is a point-base system that manages and controls behavior, assessing by “ideological, transformation, study and training, and compliance with discipline”; in other areas, this helps input the influence on allowance of contact with family members and how long of a detention an inmate would serve.
It also lists and provides a standard for basic health and physical well-being with requirements of not allowing abnormal deaths for inmates and instructions and requirements for camp personnel to be of a clean hygiene, to maintain and prevent disease outbreaks, along with making sure the buildings would be able to withstand fire and earthquakes, and assuring that inmates were at ease in making phone calls.
However, the testimony of ex-inmates exposes that the Chinese government has been lying and people are being raped, tortured, beat, and/or suffering harsh punishments and being degraded in poor and harsh prison conditions, by not complying with the Party doctrines of the government. Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur from Xinjiang living in the US now, testified that she saw nine women die in harsh conditions. Another former detainee, Sayragul Sauytbay, granted asylum in Sweden, told this to the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz: “Some prisoners were hung on the wall and beaten with electrified truncheons. There were prisoners who were made to sit on chairs of nails. I saw people return from that room covered in blood. Some came back without fingernails.”
There was another additional section to the telegram, which has instructions on “manner education,” with specific details to etiquette, obedience, friendship behaviors, and regular change of clothes, besides other things. Darren Byler, a professor at the University of Washington and an expert on Uighur culture, said that this emphasized the Han Chinese’s beliefs of Uighurs being not in the present with the modern civilization.
The Chinese authorities have emphasized with their policies of “poverty alleviation,” by claiming that with new vocational skills, the Uighurs can go beyond farming. But then, researchers and journalists have discovered and reported that there was a huge quantity of mass forced labor in textiles and consumer goods. There is also additional facilities for detainees to get even more training. When the training is done, there is a policy called “one cohort graduates, one cohort finds employment,” which is the placement of inmates into work facilities when they’re done being trained. At the last step, the local police and judicial office workers are to monitor and control the follow-up education to former detainees after their release. The ongoing indoctrination is encouraged by constant police watch as former inmates transition from training centers to work places.
The other “bulletins” that came with the telegram provided a shocking and nasty discovery to the Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), who collects a humongous amount of personal information from many sources to analyzing it through artificial intelligence for creating lists of suspicious people. Human Rights Watch, located in New York, the many sources come from Xinjiang checkpoints, camera facial recognition, spyware on phones, “wi-fi sniffers” used to glean information on smart phones, computers, and packaged deliveries. Police and the authorities use a mobile app for background checks and for commutation with IJOP.
Basically, the Chinese have a police model through artificial intelligence and mass data to predict those that would rebel or commit crimes against the state and regime and then they go after the people using that information, says Mulvenon, the SOS International document expert and director of intelligence integration. He also stated that this goes further than just an pre-crime platform, substituting artificial intelligence for human judgment and is a “cybernetic brain” quite central to the most advanced police and military complex. He raises the concern, the conditions for these policies could result in catastrophic outcomes. This technology and program used has no regard to privacy and flags people for doing the most miniscule day-to-day tasks like opening the back of their door at home.
Even more critical and agonizing is the psychological effects of being monitored and watched through Xinjiang by facial-recognition cameras on street corners, endless checkpoints, and web informants, Xinjiang lives in a state of fear as neighbors disappear on artificial intelligence generating unknown algorithms.
Within the four Chinese Cables, detailed in 11 pages, they discuss and talk about input, problems, and solutions. They were dated on June 2017; titled “Integrated Joint Operations Platform Daily Essentials Bulletin,” they are made up of issues No. 2, 9, 14, and 20.
With “Bulletin No. 14,” it gives instructions as to how an investigation was to proceed after IJOP creates a list of suspicious people. Something noted was the detainment of 15,683 Xinjiang citizens, who were put into camps, along with 706 more who were formally arrested. It showed that the total list produced 24,412 names of people and these names were discussed. They even had answers for why the total arrested didn’t add up to what was generated, some weren’t found, some had died and others were using that ID, and so on.
In 2018, Human Rights Watch gained a copy of the IJOP mobile app and reversed-engineered it to learn how police used it. They found that the police had all sorts of data on everyone including household electric-meter readings and recent travel data and so much more. IJOP then creates another unknown algorithms to flag suspicious people. Senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, Maya Wang says IJOP’s intent is far more purposeful than detaining people sent to camps; what it does is screen a huge population such as the Uighur Muslims about how strong they feel about their faith and the potential of monitoring people everywhere.
For the last two years, reports have exposed China shutting down Uighur travels and targeting those outside of China. By November 16, reports came out that Xinjiang authorities were confiscating Xinjiang residents’ passports. In July 2017, by the demand of the Chinese government, some Uighur students studying at Al-Azhar University were deported and others detained. In 2018, Uighurs living outside China reported being investigated and had information collected about them by the Chinese authorities.
“Bulletin No. 2” tells all about these acts being part of a wider policy initiative, noted on June 16, 2017, (about 2 and 1/2 pages) dealing with foreign citizenship and Uighurs who have traveled and spent time out of China. The purpose is to identify all those in association with terrorism not being ruled out. It continues on to demand deportation of anyone giving up or canceling their Chinese citizenship. And for those who are suspicious, they are to be arrested and placed in detention camps.
“Bulletin No. 20” gives instructions to security officials in Xinjiang to check and investigate all Xinjiang-based residents who use the Zapya mobile app. It was known that almost 2 million users were associated with the Islamic State and other terrorist ties.
The problem is that the China Cables does not define what the threat of “terrorism” and “extremism” is. Reports indicate that people detained have been targeted due to Uighur ties or strong religious faith, but many outside this scope has also been arrested. Experts say the targeting isn’t just on behaviors, but on factors such as a whole ethnicity or religious group.
Fluidly supporting the other bulletins, Bulletin No. 2 requests Chinese embassies and consulates to collect data for IJOP, which then generates even more people for investigation and detention. It contained a list of 4,341 people who applied for visas and other documents; further demands include arresting and investigating those the moment they go back to China. There was also a list of foreign nationals listing them by citizenship and it instructed authorities to investigate and arrest them to be thrown into mass detention camps.
The last document is about a 2018 court case in southern Xinjiang. A Uighur man was detained in August 2017 and arrested for extreme thoughts. A few months later, he was also charged with inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination. This case shows how the Chinese court system criminalizes Islamic belief. The man was charged with unlawful acts of urging co-workers to avoid pornography and to not socialize with those who don’t pray and are non-Muslim believers. Documents from this court case asked for leniency because it was his first offense and not understand the court system. The Uighur man was sentenced to 10 years in prison.