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Reports: Leaked database exposes Beijing’s religious ‘persecution’ In Xinjiang

Prison Cell in China (David Schroeter/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A newly leaked database gives an insight into how Chinese authorities have determined the fate of hundreds of thousands of Muslims held in internment camps, according to media reports.

The document profiles the internment of 311 individuals from the far western region of Xinjiang and exposes in detail their backgrounds and religious habits, the BBC and AP reported on February 17.

The records, made up of columns and rows, also give information on more than 2,000 of their relatives, neighbors, and friends.

Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, said “this remarkable document presents the strongest evidence” he had seen that Beijing “is actively persecuting and punishing normal practices of traditional religious beliefs.”

The United Nations estimated in 2019 that 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking indigenous people in Xinjiang were being held in what Beijing describes as “counterextremism centers” in the province.

The UN also said millions more people have been forced into internment camps in China.

China describes the camps as “vocational education centers” aimed at helping people steer clear of terrorism and allowing them to be reintegrated into society.

The 311 main individuals listed in the leaked database are all from Karakax County, close to the city of Hotan in southern Xinjiang, an area where the vast majority of the population is Uyghur.

One of the columns indicated if those already in internment should remain or be released, and whether those previously released needed to return.

The document contain a series of assessments for a 65-year-old man, Yusup, according to the BBC. His record shows two daughters who “wore veils and burkas in 2014 and 2015,” a son with Islamic political leanings, and a family that displays “obvious anti-Han sentiment” — a reference to China’s largest ethnicity and the second-largest community in Xinjiang. Yusup’s verdict is “continued training.”

The BBC said many of the family relationships listed in the database show long prison terms for parents or siblings. One man has been sentenced to five years for “having a double-colored thick beard and organizing a religious studies group” while a neighbor is reported to have been given 15 years for “online contact with people overseas,” it said.