How technology opened new opportunities for Uighurs – then became a trap

Religion News Service | 9/18/2019 | Staff
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(The Conversation) — The Uighurs, a Muslim minority ethnic group of around 12 million in northwest China, are required by the police to carry their smartphones and IDs listing their ethnicity.

As they pass through one of the thousands of newly built digital media and face surveillance checkpoints located at jurisdictional boundaries, entrances to religious spaces and transportation hubs, the image on their ID is matched to their face.

Items - Device - Scanner - Police

If they try to pass without these items, a digital device scanner alerts the police.

But even complying with the rules won’t necessarily keep them out of trouble. During random spot-checks the police at times demand that an individual hands over their unlocked phone which the police then examine manually or plug into a scanner.

Research - Han - Uighur - Migrants - Months

I did ethnographic research with Han and Uighur migrants for more than 24 months between 2011 and 2018 in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in northwest China. During this period, I was affiliated with the Xinjiang Arts Institute. My position allowed me to interview hundreds of Han and Uighur people. I read and speak both Uighur and Chinese so I was able to communicate with people in their own language.

When I first began my research in the region, smartphone use was not that tightly controlled by the police. But by 2018 it had became common knowledge among my Uighur interviewees that if they did not carry their phone with them or failed to produce it they could be detained.

Uighur - Majority - Areas - Border - Central

The Uighur majority areas on the border of Central Asia only became a fully integrated part of China in the 2000s. They were effectively colonized when millions of non-Muslim Han settlers moved into their community in the 1990s and 2000s to extract natural resources such as oil and natural gas.

Earlier they lived much more autonomously in desert oasis towns and villages much like...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Religion News Service
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