Wed, Dec 05, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Xinjiang police state tightens grip

How would you feel if a stranger from a far-away city suddenly showed up outside your home and, claiming to be your relative, asked to stay for a week? The uninvited “relative” comes bearing gifts, but once ensconced in your home, starts grilling your family on the minutiae of their daily lives, jotting down answers in a notebook. You watch helplessly as your serially inquisitive houseguest from hell inspects your home for religious iconography, while your every action is carefully observed and logged.

Last week, an investigation by the Associated Press — confirmed by Chinese state media — revealed that beginning last year, 1.1 million Han Chinese local government officials have been fanning out across China’s Xinjiang region to spy on ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in so-called “cultural exchanges.”

As evidence builds of an expanding network of facial recognition-equipped closed-circuit TV cameras, checkpoints and “re-education camps” estimated to hold up to 1 million Uighurs and Muslim minorities, less attention has been given to a new form of intrusive state surveillance that places Chinese Communist Party officials into the last remaining sanctuary of the region’s embattled residents: their homes.

Xinjiang has become a dystopian neo-Stalinist police state, where regular visits by Han Chinese informers are designed to bring to the attention of the authorities any individuals whose first allegiance appears to be to their religion or ethnic group, rather than the party and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).

The ChinaFile Web site in October published a report by anthropologist and regular visitor to the region Darren Byler that highlighted some of the techniques employed by visiting “relatives.”

“One could offer a host a cigarette or a sip of beer; a hand could be extended in greeting to a little sibling of the opposite gender, staying alert for signs of flinching. Or one could go out to the market for some freshly ground meat and propose that the family make dumplings. And then wait and watch to see if the Uighurs would ask what kind of meat was in the bag,” the report said.

A single false move or an unguarded remark would likely result in the family being informed upon and carted away to a re-education camp for months or even years of “corrective education.”

Meanwhile, award-wining Chinese photographer Lu Guang (盧廣), who lives in New York City with his wife, Xu Xiaoli (徐小莉), last month vanished while traveling through Xinjiang.

Xu, who last heard from her husband on Nov. 3, told reporters that she believes he was arrested by state security agents.

Lu’s photography focuses on environmental and societal issues in China. It is yet more evidence — if it were needed — of the increasingly wild paranoia of China’s police state. Now, it seems that even photography that occasionally depicts Chinese society in an unflattering light is forbidden.

Last month, Taiwan’s democracy achieved another milestone by successfully holding free and fair local elections together with a record 10 referendums. Although the results have left many voters disappointed, that another round of elections have passed peacefully, with the results accepted by the losing side, should be a cause for celebration, not despair.

Despite its many defects and deficiencies, Taiwan’s democracy is a beacon of hope for the downtrodden citizens of China and other dictatorships around the world.

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