JOHN TIRMAN: Welcome to MIT and this event on the Uyghur crisis in China. On behalf of the Center for International Studies, I'm John Tirman, and we welcome you to this half-day session, two panels, and plenty of discussion on this very important and urgent issue.
Firstly, I thank the co-sponsors of this event, Radius at MIT, Harvard's committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, Harvard FXB's Center for Health and Human Rights, MIT's Student Activities Office, and the center's Human Rights and Technology program.
And I particularly also want to thank Michelle English and Laura Kerwin, as always, to organize this event and the series of Starr Forums throughout the year. And I believe this is the last Starr Forum of this academic year. And I invite you to check our website in late summer for the autumn events to come.
Also, a welcome to our livestreaming audience on Facebook and video, which will be posted in a matter of a few days.
We have a very full schedule, which I'd like to get to very quickly today. It will include two panels of scholars, and the first one in a few moments.
But I want to point out that we will have a question and answer period after each of the two panels. And we should come to the microphones in the aisles. I think it's quite important in a fraught and somewhat emotional issue like this that we feel free to state our views, but we respect free discourse and civil discourse throughout the day. And we will be mindful of that in all cases.
The two panels then will be followed by a breakout session for those of you who want to continue discussion, and particularly those of you who wish to consider next steps to act on the things that you have heard today. And that will be down here in this room for about 30 minutes or so after the last Q&A and panel.
So without further ado, as they say, I wish to introduce the, I have to say, extraordinary young woman who has organized this conference, a senior here at MIT, who really has been the spirit and moving force behind our gathering today, Zuly Mamat.
ZULKAYDA MAMAT: Thank you for gathering here today for the conference on the Uyghur Human Rights Crisis. My name is Zuly. And like Dr. Tirman said, I'm a senior studying biological engineering here at MIT, and doing neuroscience research at Harvard. I just want to echo again Dr. Tirman's thanks to our co-sponsors. With the efforts of both MIT and Harvard, we're able to bring all of our six speakers here today. So welcome. And thank you for being here.
I want to start the conference with a saying from the Chinese Confucius literary tradition. A saying that I heard from my parents growing up, as part of my Uyghur character. A saying that I came to learn and understand as the core teaching of many religions, and at the heart of cultures around the world. And that is, never impose onto others what you would not choose for yourself. Or in Chinese-- [SPEAKING CHINESE].
So this responsibility that we have to respect with an open mind the dignity of each individual by placing ourselves in their shoes taps into the hard-wired depths of our empathy. Therefore, I invite you to begin this dialogue of understanding our role in witnessing a violation of an entire peoples' human dignity. The loss of the chance of growing up, knowing who you are or where you're from. Of knowing the safety or whereabouts of your loved ones. Or peacefully graduating, getting married, having children. Or even the simple feeling of warmth as you close your eyes when you face the sun.
So why are we here? Since the summer of 2017, we have seen from world media, US congressional hearings, and human rights organizations, alarming reports of massive internment of millions of people. Mostly Muslim, primarily of Uyghur ethnicity, but also Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. In Xinjiang, we were an autonomous region located in Northwest China. Under the eyes of the world, Chinese authorities have turned Xinjiang into a most heavily surveilled police state.
In response to the reports of the massive internments, people in positions of power in China first denied the existence of such centers, as can be seen from the Consul General of China in Kazakhstan stating, quote, we do not have such an idea, back in February, 2018.
Once evidence started to pile with pictures and testimonies, they then changed their narrative, and said that these internment camps were a poverty alleviation measure. And less than a month ago, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, in quote, building vocational, education, and training centers in Xinjiang is a preventive measure, and is totally legitimate.
Perhaps what's more disheartening is best encapsulated when a Beijing based anti-terrorism expert stated in the Global Times, in quote, by giving people who have been influenced by extremism a new chance into training centers, their human rights have also been protected.
So with that, let's take a glimpse at what really happens within the walls of those training centers. Here, I would like to show you a short excerpt of testimonies coming from three camp survivors.
- My name is [INAUDIBLE], and I am 29 years old. I am Uyghur. Over the last three years, I was taken to China's government detention centers three times. I spent a total of 10 months in the camps. In May 2015, I returned to China from Egypt where I studied English. I was arrested at the airport, and my two-month-old triplets were taken away. The officers handcuffed me, put a dark sack over my head, and took me to a detention center. My older son had died in their hands. In April 2017, I was taken to a detention center for the second time. I was interrogated for four days and nights without sleep. After being in the camp for three months, I kept having seizures and losing consciousness. I was finally released to a mental hospital.
In January 2018, I was detained for the third time. They put chains on my wrists and ankles, put a black sack over my head, and took me to a hospital. I was stripped naked and put under a big computerized machine. Then I was dressed in a blue uniform with yellow vest, worn by serious criminals, and taken to a camp. There were around 60 people in one of the cells where I was held. At night, 15 woman would stand up while the rest of us would sleep sideways. And then we would rotate every two hours. Some people had not taken a shower in over a year.
They forced us to take unknown pills and to drink some kind of white liquid. The pill caused us to lose consciousness, and reduced our cognition level. The white liquid caused loss of menstruation in some women, and extreme bleeding in others-- and even death. I also experienced torture in a tiger chair the second time I was detained. I was taken to a special room, and placed in a high chair. Bands held my arms and the legs in place, and tightened when they pressed a button. The guards put a helmet on my shaved head. Each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently. And I could feel the pain in my veins.
I thought I would rather die than go through this torture. I begged them to kill me. In another cell where I was held, there will 40 woman aged between 17 and 62. When I left the cell after about three months, there were 68. Most of them were educated professionals, such as teachers and doctors.
I witnessed nine deaths in my cell in three months. I cannot imagine how many deaths there must be in all camps. I still remember the words of the officers when I asked what my crime was. They said, in quote, being of Uyghur is a crime.
- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
- Abduweli's account of his treatment within the walls of the facilities is horrific.
- First day is very bad. The first thing they ask me to-- take off my clothes, strip off my clothes. And they slapped my buttock. They abused me more than 20 Chinese guys.
- When you say they abused you, how?
- That-- any man cannot accept that.
- You're saying they raped you?
- Yeah. So I cannot-- I can't forget that. I didn't tell anybody until now. I hadn't tell anybody. Because I-- I feel shame. In the morning, three police asked me, one day, if you guys in power, what you will do to us. I said, look, I'm a human being. I'm not an animal like you.
- What followed, he says, was more violence, this time at the hands of inmates. They put me in the cell with the drug addicts and with the killers. And they beat me. Like 24 hours.
- And where were the guards?
- Guards? Don't care. They want you be tortured like this. If you tortured a lot, it means that you cooperate with them during the interrogation.
- Abduweli believes the rapes and beatings were orchestrated to force him into admitting he was a terrorist.
- I'm a scholar. I'm a writer. And I had never thought about that. I'm not a terrorist. I'm not a separatist. And-- but I confessed.
- 101 East interviewed more than a dozen other former detainees. All shared similar stories of abuse.
ZULKAYDA MAMAT: These are the stories of only three individuals. Now imagine the unheard voices of millions of people, surviving every second in such enclosures. Imagine students and professors, teachers, academics, punished for striving for truth and knowledge. Imagine mothers and fathers robbed of the chance of embracing their children, and kiss them on the forehead on their wedding day. Imagine toddlers systemically engineered to become orphans, stripped from their parents, community, and identity.
So why are people in position of power in China committing such atrocious crimes? Here, I want to introduce just some context to the conflict. Since Xinjiang's announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative back in late 2013, Xinjiang became a core region, with its strategic location along 5,600 kilometer border with eight nations. And in addition, its vast mineral reserves.
Simultaneously, Chinese authorities resorted to a narrative of legitimizing its surveillance and mass internment on the basis of countering three forces-- namely terrorism, extremism, and separatism. Now, like many violent and confusing times in history such de-extremification efforts did not differentiate, targeting thousands of people just like you and me-- students, scholars, academics, artists-- who are not at all involved with such forces.
These individuals that you see in these 100 posters that are on the wall today are right now at this moment held in such enclosures. All of them, influential in their respective academic and artistic fields. In the words of Abduweli from the video, what did they do wrong? As we celebrate our scholars' drive for excellence in academic institutions like MIT and Harvard, Chinese authorities are persecuting and targeting Uyghur scholars for the same efforts.
Yet as I was-- we were together preparing for this conference, many times I was asked the question of whether or not I was ready to take such a stance on such a controversial issue. But where is the controversy? Are UN reportings of millions of people taken into concentration camps a controversy? Are satellite images of vastly expanding construction of the enclosures a controversy? Is our oath of "never again" in this society a controversy?
We are here to analyze how once such a human atrocity is reframed as controversial. It automatically lends itself to be questioned on the basis of its legitimacy. Yet, we're not gathered here today to explore the existence of the centers. We are also not here to tell one side of the story, because there are no sides. When a man gets raped by 20 men because he was a teacher, whose only crime was his will and devotion of his life to educate Uyghur children to fulfill their dreams. We are also not here to explicitly condemn officials.
However, we are here to figure out what bridges we can build instead. We are here to bear witness to the undeniable evidence of the violation of human rights happening in Xinjiang. We are here to analyze how seemingly benign academic, technological, and economic collaborations and contracts with China may be inadvertently fueling this crisis in human dignity, love, and respect.
Now, I will focus my talk on the second aim of the conference. And that is to open a productive dialogue amongst ourselves in understanding how technology is not used, but abused by the Chinese authorities. And thinking more broadly about how technology is deployed in society at large. Today, China leads the world in both issued papers, scientific and engineering papers, and issued patents in nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. With multi-billion dollar tech companies thriving under government initiatives and ambitions, China plans to lead the world further in digital, robotic, and artificial intelligence technologies in less than a decade.
And of course, all of this is not harmful by default. However, it is a double-edged sword, as these tech companies are recruited by the Chinese authorities to persecute minorities under a frequently stifling authoritarian regime.
Unfortunately, we have been blind-- or have chosen to look away from this enormous responsibility that lies ahead. In the deadly collaborations, partnerships, and funding from Chinese research institutions and tech companies that participate, in effect, in the violation of human dignity and integrity.
And we don't actually need to look far to look for those benign yet costly collaborations. Within a two mile radius of this very room, we have BGI US headquarters, which in 2017, launched a genetic testing center in Xinjiang to collect DNA data from Uyghurs-- mostly from those in camps, let alone from consenting individuals. We have Thermo Fisher, a company that just recently stopped selling their genetic testing equipment in Xinjiang for massive illegal collection of Uyghur genetic data. That can be used for illegal organ harvesting, and targeted prosecutions of Uyghur dissidents.
We even have our own institutions. MIT CSAIL, forming a five year research collaboration with iFLYTEK, which according to Human Rights Watch, has enforced intrusive collection of biometric data from adults and children in Xinjiang, and used AI-enabled recognition technologies to establish big data platforms that are explicitly used by the police to target ethnic minorities and those with psychosocial disabilities.
This past February, MIT rushed into another research partnership with Chinese AI giant and global facial recognition leader, SenseTime, which has a joint venture with Leon Technologies facilitating government infrastructure in Xinjiang for surveillance. Partly because of ignorance. And partly because higher education in technology teaches ethics only incidentally. And engages human rights impacts of technology even more superficially, if at all.
In costly ways, we, as students, researchers, technologists, and entrepreneurs are passively participating as Chinese authorities build a 21st century police state in Xinjiang. And these technologies include facial recognition, phone surveillance, DNA sequencing, and biometrics verification. All of it, done with our help.
Knowing how we have failed as institutions and individuals to overlook our potential impact on a people more than 7,000 miles away may feel disheartening. However, recognizing this responsibility gives us the power to change our response. Loving and supporting our academic institutions require much more than sharing praises and avoiding uncomfortable truths. Sometimes, we need disruptions to question the status quo by standing up for what is right. And that is exactly why I am standing before you today. Because I believe in our ability to bring about change.
Individually, do we become overwhelmed with tragedy? Or do we use our positions as researchers, academics, activists, journalists, or politicians to think critically and ethically before we engage with Chinese authorities and companies? Institutionally, do we avoid accusations? Or do we educate the current and future engineers, technologists, and leaders in the world to confront China's abuse of digital cyber and biological technologies? Do we merely inform ourselves of what is happening? Where do we begin to share these stories? And call US representatives in protecting human dignity and technological tyranny-- preventing technological tyranny.
Now, MIT and Harvard share a long history of standing up for truth and justice through understanding. We are all connected as one people. The Uyghurs want what you and I all seek deep within-- a way to live life with meaning. The dignity to live life with meaning. The Uyghurs are a part of me, but also, a part of all of us. As collective humanity, we have been tested by the current and past wars. We have been tried by the bigotry and politics. But in the words of John F Kennedy, we have also been unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoings of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Therefore, I invite you to listen with an open mind to all of our six speakers here today, and begin to understand and reconsider the decisions we make in academia. Because when we care, we learn. And as the conflict resolution specialist Dr. Donna Hicks once said, once we learn, we no longer can use ignorance as an excuse. Thank you.
With that, I'm excited to introduce our three speakers for the morning session, whose bios actually are included in the handout that you received, so feel free to refer to them. First, we will hear from Professor Sean Roberts. Besides the fact that his work is widely known with the Uyghur community, personally, he gave me the hope for this conference by being the first person to respond within 30 minutes of me sending out the invitation emails. And I remember screaming yes in my dorm room when I saw that.
Next, we will hear from Dr. Darren Byler, whom I first encountered digitally through his articles. Then, through his talk at Duke University, which started a lot of positive fervor within the Uyghur community. Then, we will hear from Professor Rian Thum, whose US congressional testimony of the crisis left the senators with deep reflections and jolting of the heart.
Without further delay, please welcome to the stage Professor Sean Roberts.
SEAN ROBERTS: Thank you very much. I'd like to thank the organizers. And it's a hard act to follow-- Zuly's very inspirational introduction to this program today.
I'm going to speak about how we got to this point. And I think one of the important things to remember-- something this extensive and extreme isn't due to one single thing. I think that there's been a perfect storm of different things that come together around what's happening in the Uyghur region of China.
First of all, there is a long-standing conflict between Uyghurs and modern Chinese states, which I'm going to talk a little bit more about. And I think that is something that's been going on for a long time. And certainly feeds into what's happening now. I think we have to note that Xi Jinping's style of rule also plays a major part in what's happening. And certainly, many people have pointed out at meetings like this that we see a lot of things happening in the Uyghur region that are also being ruled out elsewhere in China.
I think it is important to note the role of the Belt and Road Initiative. This region, where the Uyghurs live and view as their homeland, is a critical strategic location for the Belt and Road. And I think for quite some time, the Chinese government has viewed the Uyghurs as kind of a barrier to the realization of making that region into a transport hub.
But the thing I'm going to speak most about today is the role of the war on terror in basically facilitating a discourse that, with time, has targeted Uyghurs by their identity as potential terrorists.
So first, I'll talk about the long-standing conflict between Uyghurs and modern Chinese states. I like to call this the conflict between Eastern Turkistan and Xinjiang. Xinjiang is the name that is used by the Chinese government. Many Uyghurs dislike using the name. It translates as new territory or new border. And it belies kind of the more recent connection of this region to modern China. And I think this highlights the fact that many Uyghurs deny this name. One name that's often used is East Turkistan, which has subsequently been identified by the Chinese state as essentially a terrorist organization. Just using the name East Turkistan is assumed to be an act of extremism.
But this gets at the core, I think, of what the conflict between Uyghurs and modern Chinese states is about. And it's about an issue of self-determination and territory. That does not necessarily mean separatism and sovereignty. I think that there's lots of ways we see self-determination in the world today, aside from separate nation states.
Uyghurs generally view this region as their homeland. They see themselves as the indigenous population of this region, along with other Turkic nationalities that live in the region. And they also, I think generally, Uyghurs who think about this, look at it as having been conquered by the Ching dynasty in the 18th century, and subsequently occupied by modern Chinese states.
Now, you can look at that critically through a historical lens. But I think what's most important is that's the general understanding of this region that Uyghurs have. And the Chinese state has a diametrically opposed vision of this region as always being part of China, a greater China. And believing that the Uyghurs are not indigenous to this region.
In fact, I think what's really striking about this is in a recent counterterrorism policy paper of the Chinese government, about a page and a half-- it begins with a page and a half making this point. That this is a region that's always been part of China, and the Uyghurs are not indigenous to it.
So what does that do of terrorism? I'm not sure. But it shows you how important that narrative is to the Chinese state. And I think that what we're seeing in the conflict between Uyghurs and modern Chinese states is that it's a situation where there has been a colonization. And that has not been recognized, and has not progressed to a post-colonial situation. The Chinese state has probably only twice-- the modern Chinese state has only twice in its history kind of ruled out accommodating policies that recognize the Uyghurs attachment to this territory. And they're very brief-- right after the revolution, and right after the Cultural Revolution.
So I think this has been a long-standing conflict. But it changed significantly after September 11, 2001. And that was, of course, when we were all introduced to the narrative of global terrorism, which has taken on a life of itself, I would say, in the world. And six weeks after 9/11, the Chinese government released a policy paper claiming that all Uyghur dissent inside China, inside the People's Republic of China, and all violent instances that had happened in this territory throughout the 1990s, had been perpetrated by a large international network of Uyghur terrorists funded by Osama bin Laden. And it included a variety of organizations abroad, most of which were human rights organizations, political rights organizations.
And it was mostly dismissed by, I think, the Western audience. In particular, people who were studying this region and the Uyghur people. However, a year later, both the US and the UN recognized one of the organizations outlined in this paper, an organization called the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, as being a terrorist organization. And I think that was the beginning of a process that we're seeing kind of the fruits of now.
We saw, in addition to the Chinese government being able to use this narrative of terrorism to justify its approach to Uyghur dissent, it also led to a proliferation of literature in the west that basically took Chinese claims at face value. And this continues in security studies and terrorism studies to this day. And the idea is that this ETIM group that presumably in the early 1990s was already involved in lots of terrorism and funded by Osama bin Laden had continued to do exactly that into the present.
Now, I'm going to try to briefly give you some facts about this from my own research. So the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement-- which the people who were associated with this, if we can call it an organization at all, never used that term. It was a group that seemed to be established in about 1998 in Afghanistan, and existed until 2003. And this person, Hasan Mahsum was its original organizer. And essentially, it was a group that was trying to establish an insurgency within China, a liberation movement among Uyghurs. As unrealistic as that was at that time and certainly would be at this time, they were trying to establish training camps, and get some Uyghurs over to train to go to war against the Chinese state.
Basically, I don't think they ever had any significant resources. They certainly don't seem to have ever received funding from Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda or the Taliban. In fact, they later condemned the 9/11 attacks. And they were driven into Pakistan in 2002 when the US invaded Afghanistan. And in 2003, Hasan Mahsum was killed, and basically, this organization ceased to exist.
It's hard to say how many people went through these training camps. But I'm quite confident it was a very small number. And there's no evidence that they were ever able to go back to China, and carry out any violence.
Unfortunately, about two years later, an organization-- or at least videos start to appear on the internet. Created by this man, Abdul Haq, who had been involved with Hasan Mahsud previously. But he seems to have moved into Pakistan, and did establish ties with al-Qaeda. And he creates a lot of different videos over the period from 2008 to 2013, where-- it's threatening attacks on China. But it basically only shows Abdul Haq, sometimes some stock footage from back in the day Hasan Mahsud. But there's no evidence that this group was ever able to carry out any attacks inside China. And it's not clear it ever had very much of a Uyghur membership base or Uyghur militants involved with it.
And I think this only changed recently. So my analysis of this organization was essentially a recruiting tool of al-Qaeda. Probably not a very successful one. But trying to attract Uyghur leaving China to al-Qaeda.
So the terrorism threat from 2001 to 2013 in this Uyghur region of China, or in China in general, is minimal, if not non-existent. We don't see many attacks that clearly look like terrorist attacks. We don't see a whole lot of violence, period. There were threats made towards the Olympics from this Abdul Haq person, from the Turkistan Islamic Party. But nothing really ever transpired from that. But fear grew out of this. And I think that-- not-- I think to a certain extent, where I think the Chinese state initially used this terrorism threat opportunistically, I think some people within the state, and certainly some Han Chinese began to believe that this was a real threat.
And this was further exacerbated in 2009, when there were mass ethnic riots in the city of Urumchim where basically Uyghurs and Han Chinese went after each other and were killing each other in the streets. This seems to have started around a protest that was put down by security forces, but what we saw was a boiling over of tensions.
But after that riot, basically the crackdown was so severe, international communications and the internet was completely shut off in this region for a year. Thousands of Uyghurs disappeared. Scores were arrested. We started to see more restrictions on Uyghur mobility, increased surveillance. And we started to see attacks on religion, and including certain Uyghur cultural attributes that could be seen as related to religion.
So then, even though there was no sign that this had anything to do with religion or terrorism or extremism, it became kind of caught up in that same discourse. This crackdown was very severe. And I think was a turning point where we saw, first, the beginning of a cycle of violence and repression inside China related to Uyghurs. We saw some violent attacks that look more like terrorism. The details are not very well known. But every time there would be a violent attack, we would see more repression. And then we we'd see more violence. And we have this cycle.
And at the same time we had a significant number of Uyghurs leaving the region. Some going through human trafficking networks through Southeast Asia. Some mysteriously, in 2015, the government gave out passports to all Uyghurs. And we had a mass migration of people legally, just using their passports. And most of these Uyghurs were going to Turkey, which is one place that was known among Uyghurs as a safe haven, where they could go and, if not receive official refugee status, at least be able to live peacefully.
And finally, a group of these hundreds of Uyghurs, potentially a couple of thousand, found themselves in Syria. And actually they were associated with the Turkistan Islamic Party. And basically, this migration allowed the Turkistan Islamic Party to finally become a fighting force.
So I think that this process has led to a general equating of Uyghurs with terrorists in the eyes of the Chinese state. By 2016, the People's Republic of China begins conflating Uyghur identity with terrorism and extremism, seeing the Uyghur population as kind of a virus infecting China's harmonious society. In fact, a lot of the rhetoric of state officials uses this kind of biological language about the infection of extremism and of the Uyghurs into China's larger population. And for the Chinese government, I think it's begun to see the solution that what has always been really an overexaggerated terrorist threat as being the transformation, destruction, or quarantine of the Uyghur identity and the Uyghur population.
So we're going to hear a lot about this. I'm not going to go into what's happened since 2016. But we watched this unfold, a lot of us who've been studying the region. We saw all of this increased surveillance. Starting the DNA sampling, cell phone tracking, facial recognition, surveillance. We saw the creation of police stations every 300 yards in urban areas. And by 2017, we started seeing that people were disappearing. And we started learning about these mass internment camps.
So I would suggest that this is-- we're seeing something that's kind of a new form of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is generally associated with the Yugoslav civil war, and associated with the idea of establish of-- removing an ethnic group from a territory. But what we're seeing happening in the Uyghur region of China now is more an attempt to cleanse the members of the ethnic group. To somehow change them into different people. I don't think it's an attempt to change them into Chinese. Because I don't think-- I think the relationship between Uyghurs and the Chinese state is such that Uyghurs are never really accepted as Chinese. But they are seen as a dangerous element now. And the idea is to make them somehow into a docile and loyal population.
Now, I just want to end with a note about how I think the global war on terror has facilitated this situation. I mean, certainly this is something that the Chinese state is doing. But I think the global war on terror has allowed it to do it. And I think it has in some ways even encouraged the Chinese state to do what it's doing in the Uyghur region.
First of all, the fact that there is no internationally recognized definition of terrorism is extremely troubling. That we've been fighting a global war for 18 years against an enemy that we can't define. And this has allowed, I think throughout the world, a lot of a repressive, authoritarian states to attack domestic opposition-- and this happens also in democratic states-- and domestic opponents that have legitimate grievances. And to basically label them as terrorists.
And I think this has a couple very troubling results. First, it can turn a group that hasn't really been militant into a more militant group. It can kind of isolate them to the point where they see no other option. And secondly, and I think most troubling and most relevant to what we're talking about today, the terrorism label essentially dehumanizes the people that are tagged with it. And at the same time, it very much becomes associated with their thought process. Particularly, the conflation of terrorism with extremism means that extremism is not just something you do, it's something you think.
And so that is very easily conflated with one, Islam. And we're seeing that around the world, where people are saying, well, the real problem is Islam that's leading to terrorism. And in, I think, the case of the Uyghurs, it can be conflated with their identity and their culture. And so I think in that context, we can see that the global war on terror essentially lends itself to genocidal type strategies. And I think that's part of what we're seeing in China today. Thank you.
DARREN BYLER: Thank you all for coming. It's a real honor to be here. I'm going to pick up on what Sean was talking about, and turn now to talk to some extent about the economics that are driving some of this. And also the role of technology and how it emerged over time. I'm going to talk about what I call a Chinese security industrial complex. Or in some of my writing, I call it terror capitalism.
So to get started thinking about this, we need to think about the 1990s, which is when China was really opening up to the west, when industrialization was really taking off in the eastern part of the country. That's when all the stuff that says made in China first began to arrive in Walmart here in the US.
And to get access and to produce those new forms of production in industry, they needed resources. And so one of the things that they needed was oil and natural gas. And that's when we saw people moving west. Moving to Xinjiang for economic opportunities, to work in resource extraction. Because Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland, is home to a large percentage of Chinese oil and natural gas and also coal. It's now become a source for industrial agriculture-- cotton and tomatoes in particular.
And so when those folks from eastern China moved out to Xinjiang, they began to build out the hard infrastructure of the region. And that that looks like pipelines and roads. And other service industries that are around those things. So they can get access to the natural resources. And that really brought people into the Uyghur homeland to a larger extent. Prior to this, there had been a Han presence in the region. But they lived primarily in the northern part of the province or the region. As the infrastructure build out began, they started moving right into the heartland of the Uyghur population.
And there was a number of effects from this. This was an open up the west campaign that was sponsoring a lot of this. It was a Chinese state initiative. And they wanted to integrate the Uyghur population with the country, that was part of the goal. But actually what happened through this build out was Uyghurs saw themselves being dispossessed of their land. Because in many cases, land was actually taken from them. But in a more general sense, the economy began to shift, and Uyghurs were excluded from that new economy. Because all of these natural resource extraction industries centered only around Han labor. Uyghurs where almost exclusively excluded from those industries. They just weren't given those jobs.
And so the economy began to shift. Things became more expensive, rents increased, basic staples became more expensive. And Uyghurs saw themselves becoming poorer. Even as they were making the same amount of money, the economy was shifting around them. And so they saw themselves in a more desperate situation. Of course there are some benefits to having infrastructure. There's roads and there's also communications infrastructure.
And so by 2010, soon after those large scale protests in [INAUDIBLE] was just talking about, 3G networks were built out across the region. And so for the first time, Uyghurs in the rural areas-- which is the majority of Uyghurs-- had access to 3G networks, and very soon, smartphones.
And so when I went for my first year of fieldwork as an anthropologist, I was learning languages in 2011, they were just starting to buy these smartphones, especially young people. And starting to use them in their homes across the region.
By 2011 or 2012, an app called WeChat, which is a social media app that allows people to speak using oral communication, came online as well. And that was really transformative for Uyghurs. Because prior to this, it was difficult for Uyghurs to type on a smartphone. The capability wasn't there for their language. And also many Uyghurs are not fully-- they prefer to speak, rather than to type. Some of it has to do with their education.
And they found very quickly as using this app that they could communicate with each other fairly freely. Because the state also didn't have the capability of regulating oral speech. So they were able to speak in Uyghur. And the state wasn't quite keeping up with what they were saying.
And so they were talking about a lot of things they were talking about culture. They were talking about politics. This was the time of the Arab Spring, so they were interested in some of those issues. They're interested in Turkish movies, Iranian movies, all kinds of movies from around the world-- which is something I was studying at the time.
But they're also interested in religion. So they're downloading messages from teachers based in parts of Xinjiang, but also based in Turkey and Uzbekistan. Mostly conversations-- they were interesting conversations about what does it mean to be Muslim. Very normal kind of Muslim stuff. Like what's halal, what's haram? What does it mean to be a contemporary person in the world today? And so people began to get to adapt their lifestyle in certain ways, and became more pious in their appearance as Muslims.
So WeChat enabled a couple of things. It began to change religious perspectives and practice. But it also gave people ideas about the city and about being a global citizen.
So during this time, we saw lots of people moving from rural areas to regional centers, and then from there to the city. Especially young men, who were incentivized by their families or asked by their families to go to the city and try to find a job. They came for a number of reasons. To find jobs was one of them. But the other reason was religious practice. Because in the city, they were able to practice their faith more freely. There's more anonymity in the city. So that meant that they could go to the mosque more regularly. They could dress how they wanted to dress. In the countryside, in the rural area, people would watch more closely.
The mosque space were full. So in 2014, when I did a second year of fieldwork, this is what Friday prayers looked like. There was so many people that couldn't fit inside the mosque. But the mosque was also seen as not the location of real Islam. It was the center of ritual practice.
But the Islamic practice itself happened around the mosque in prayer room spaces and on people's phones. People were passing messages using SD cards, using Bluetooth technology. They would sit and discuss messages. They would share things. They built online personas as a WeChat user.
And the internet became a really important part of people's everyday life. So many young men that I interviewed told me that putting money on their phone card was an important part of their week. If they couldn't put money on their card, they couldn't contact their family back in the countryside. They also couldn't find jobs. And they also couldn't perform their religiosity.
So the state was paying attention to this. They began to realize that people are using WeChat to do stuff that they thought was crossing the line. And so they were trying to find ways to assess and regulate it.
And they're also concerned with the kind of trend in violence that was happening in spaces around the weaker homeland. But also in other parts of China. There was an attack in Kunming, and another one in Beijing that really alarmed people. Especially in other parts of China. And the discourse of terrorism really picked up. Officials I interviewed at this time told me that they were seeing among Uyghurs a talibanization of the Uyghurs. Uyghurs, they thought, were becoming extremists.
So in 2014, they declared the people's war on terror. And that looked like this. It was posters that were placed in every alleyway in the Uyghur neighborhoods, saying that you're no longer permitted to dress in these manners. Women were no longer allowed to veil themselves. Young men, no longer allowed to have beards. And Islamic symbols were now forbidden. Instead, this poster says, you should look like a normal person, a beautiful person.
And so pious expressions of Islam were now officially outlawed. And there was also new mechanisms put in place to put people-- to expel people from the city, and begin this reeducation process. It picked up two years later to a much larger extent.
So what does this look like? And building a little bit on what Sean was talking about, the people's war on terror is one in which the people are involved. Everyone's invested. If you see something, say something. It's that sort of thinking. But it's also fought in a different register.
So it's not about occupying and bombing another country, as the US has done in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, it's about targeting a population-- an native population-- that's in their own country. Domestic populations of people citizens. It's minority Muslim people that look different-- that are Turkic, that speak a different language. And so in that sense, it's different than the US model of war on terror.
It also uses different technologies in different ways. It's using cameras, checkpoints, prisons, internment camps, and forced labor. So it's less about overt violence. But it's more about a long, slow, deep violence. This is funded and operationalized by technology, but also state security and higher education. That's why it's a security complex. These people are working together to build this new industry around controlling and re-educating the population. The goal is to break the autonomy of the Uyghur internet, WeChat, and also control their movement. There's now 1,400 tech firms that are working explicitly on this in Xinjiang. That's a growth from just over the last decade. And in the last two years, $7.2 billion have been invested in this industry.
A couple of the examples that I can point out that have been produced by this industry is technology from a company called Meiya Pico that does AI-enabled auto-transcription and translation of Uyghur spoken audio. So you can see that's a technology that's meant to assess WeChat oral speech.
There's also new programs put in place to do the auto-detection of Uyghur faces, to operationalize ethno-racial profiling as an explicit goal of an AI system.
If you go to this region as I did most recently in April of last year, this is the sort of thing you'll first notice, is the convenience police stations that are every 300 meters on every city block. These are really checkpoint-oriented facilities, and also rapid response units. But mostly, it's about cameras that are based in each of these stations. And also the sort of random checkpoints that are or facilitated by them. People coming out of the station, and then conducting spot checks.
They are also racially profiling, where it's basically looking for Uyghur, young Uyghur that look like they're rural, that don't look like they're from the city, that are potentially suspect.
As you move through the space, you'll also find many checkpoints between jurisdictions. So as you move out of a city, across the county line, sometimes it's more dense than that, just going into a shopping mall or any sort of institution, there'll be a face recognition enabled checkpoint. Which functions as a hard reset of the system. Because as you move through that system, they have a very clear idea of where that person is in the world.
And it's only really looking for Uyghurs or Turkic minorities. Because most of these checkpoints have a green lane associated with them, where people are not assessed at all. So this checkpoint, which I went through in April, there is on the left side of the checkpoint is the back gate of the checkpoint. Which is opened by a police officer for people, based on their appearance of their face. They just simply look at the person and say, you can come through this way.
I wasn't sure which lane to go through because I'm not Uyghur or Han. So I asked the Uyghurs that I was in line with in Uyghur which line I should go to go through. And they said, well, you're speaking Uyghur, you could possibly be a city Uyghur. So you should go through the Uyghur line. So I went through the Uyghur line. I had a passport, so I wasn't-- they had to assess me differently, because I don't have a national ID. Because the way the system works is you scan your ID, and then it matches the picture on your ID to your face.
All of this infrastructure, hard infrastructure, is supported by data that's been collected in a sort of unprecedented manner. In 2016, 2017, there was a program put in place that was framed as a public health initiative called Physicals for All. And this required Uyghurs-- and others in the province, but Uyghurs in particular-- to go to their local police station and submit biometric data. So it was a police officer that was collecting this data. So the public health aspect of it was, I think, lost in most cases.
Instead, was people giving DNA, blood, and fingerprints. But also speaking into a device to get a voice signature, unique voice signature for each person. They had to read the same thing several times, until it was sufficiently recognized. And then they also had their face scanned from a variety of different angles, with different people doing different expressions. People talk about this as a long process that took, in some cases, an hour to get a full scan of the person's face. Which tells us something about the resolution and the fidelity of those images that are being collected. And when 36 million people do that, you have a database that's really unprecedented in terms of scale and fidelity resolution.
36 million is more than the population of the region. So that is telling us either there's-- the official population of the region is not what it is, or people had to go and do it more than once to fully meet the requirements of the system. This is a coercive process. People had to go to the police station there was no possibility not to go to the police station and submit your data.
This data was then put into a system that we're not fully sure as to what extent it's operationalized-- although I have some sense that it is working-- called Integrated Joint Operations Platform. There's more research that needs to be done on this this platform in terms of who's servicing it. We know certain companies that are involved in parts of it. But together, it's a regional database that's collecting all of this data and putting it in a single space.
It's getting data from, in addition to the biometric stuff that's been collected, CCTV cameras, Wi-Fi sniffers, getting packets of information as it moves through space, looking through health records, banking records, family planning history. And of course, all of those checkpoints.
It's also supported by a nanny app that people have been asked to install on their phones. In [INAUDIBLE] at least they're using an app called Jingwant Weishi, which is clean neck guard. That's one of the ways you could translate it. In other spaces, it's a different app. But in general, people have this app on their phone. When I was there in April, I was observing many people having this app checked on their phone at many checkpoints. My research focus at that time was really going through checkpoints, and doing observations of how people were interacting with police.
This app, as we understand it, works to first certify who is using the phone. It's matched to the person's ID. And then it searches through all messaging coming from that phone to find unique identifiers of your social network. So it's looking at all messaging from both video and audio to text and any other things that's coming out of your phone. Photos.
So together, all of that stuff is then compared to an external database for any kind of flagged materials. It's gonna figure out who you're connected with. Users that have flagged material on their phone are supposed to delete it immediately. They can also be called in to the police station if they don't.
So in addition to all of this quantitative kind of data that's using tech, there's also a qualitative aspect to it, where people were asked to go into Uyghur homes, and also Kazakh homes. Police officers, but also what they call relatives or civil servants that are sent to monitor and assess Uyghurs.
And in general, they use 10 categories to do these assessments. People started out with 100 points, and you're considered a safe person. And then through this assessment you're determined to be safe, unsafe, normal, or unsafe. So you start with 100 points, and each of these categories count as minus 10. So if you're of military age, minus 10. If you're Uyghur, minus 10. If you're underemployed, minus 10. Which are sort of categories of existence that counted for many, many people. So already, most people are just normal category.
Then if you traveled abroad, you have a passport, gone to one of 26 banned countries or Muslim majority countries, if you've overstayed a visa or have a family member living abroad, those are all categories that count against you.
Then there's three important categories that are focused on religion. So if you pray regularly, minus 10. And if you have religious knowledge, which means like you pass messages on WeChat, your learned Arabic or studied the Koran, those are all things that will count against you. And those are the things that caught many, many people. Because they're actually using technology to assess these things. Not just people saying, no, I don't have religious knowledge. There is also a category about family life. Teaching your children about Islam in your home is also forbidden.
So talking to people that have been in this system and gone through these assessments-- this is [INAUDIBLE], who we saw a short video from at the beginning of this conference. She said that in her cell, there's really two categories of people. The people of her age, which is the older generation, were often taken to the cell because they had their phone number in someone else's phone. Someone else had been detained, and then they went through that person's phone and saw all the contacts. And then those people were also detained. So that's one way that technology is used in kind of a really direct way.
But there's also digital footprint searches that are also pulling people into the system. She said that the younger generation of people that were in the cell with her had things on their phone that they had deleted a long time ago. Or at least some of them said that. This one girl told her, I deleted them a long time ago, but somehow they restored them. They were just pictures of women in veils. In one of them, a little girl is holding her hands up in prayer. And so that's enough to kind of signify to the police or to people doing assessments that this is an extremist that is suspicious, and needs to be detained for further assessment.
Once you're determined to be unsafe, you're sent to a camp, which is something that Ryan is going to talk about in his talk, where you're scheduled for reeducation. There's camps all over the province or region. Most of them function as kind of medium security prisons, where people are held in dormitories under lock-- locked-- in locked cells with armed guards.
But there is a re-education aspect to it. Some people are learning Chinese if their Chinese is bad. Most people doing that. But also learning political thought. And going through a sort of forced confessions, struggle sessions.
So that's what we see possibly here. Though it's really hard to source these images and know exactly what's going on. But we've heard from some reports that people have to stand and denounce their past crimes, studying the Koran or what have you. And then others are meant to criticize them. And through this process, you gain points towards eventual release or movement into a minimum security space in the camp. Those that successfully graduate are put into forced internships, at least some of them, close to the camp. So this is an image that's showing you prison-like areas. And then recently built, just over the last six months, factory-type spaces just to the north of it, the red area, the buildings with red roofs.
People in those spaces are often learning how to do textile work. Maybe they already knew, I don't know. The people that so far that have been moved into these spaces are people that are actually quite well educated. Because they can speak Chinese fluently, and they know how to navigate the political system, and they can speak and take tests well. And so it's not clear that these people are actually getting much benefit from the training at the sewing machine.
So just to begin to wrap up, what's been produced through the system-- kind of throughout it, both in the camps and outside of the camps-- is a new division of power. Power in terms of personal autonomy, but also collective autonomy. One person I interviewed told me Uyghur are alive, but our entire lives are now spent behind walls. It's like we are ghosts living in another world.
A Han relative, someone was sent to assess people in their homes, told me, I feel so much more freedom. So much freedom now. We can go anywhere we want. And so from his perspective, this was a monumental success. It was something that had produced real change. And really, he felt, empowering for himself.
The mosque spaces that were overflowing when I began my fieldwork and through the midpoint of my fieldwork are now completely empty. They're still open, but there's checkpoints at the front of them. So no one is entering the mosques.
Tech employees that work in this space talk about how what they're building has unlimited market potential. Because the Belt and Road Initiative encompasses 60% of the world's Muslim population. They said there are all kinds of applications where this population management tools can be put in place. There's many tech firms involved in this. Most of the leading AI companies in China are involved in this. This is sort of a testing ground to build out and experiment with their technology.
China wants to invest $150 billion in AI by 2030. They want to be a world power when it comes to tech. And so they're putting a lot of money behind this.
These companies are integrated with the West. Some of them have partnerships with institutions here like MIT.
It's also not simply Chinese investment money going into this state investment. There's also foreign investment that's supporting some of these tech firms as well. So Fidelity International, Qualcomm Ventures, Sequoia and Sinovation have all put money into these tech companies.
So to finally conclude, from Uyghur perspectives, what's being produced by this is open air prisons. So both in the camp themselves, but also outside of the camp, all movement is monitored. All kind of thought is monitored when it comes to digital communication. And so people feel themselves changing their human behavior.
It's also producing what Uyghurs see as a weakening of basic institutions-- their faith, language, family, and cuisine. Those kind of basic things that are still parts of who they are as native people to this space.
From the state perspective, what's being produced is long-term security, long-term stability. They also see unlimited industrial growth outside of China. And in China. But throughout kind of the global south. Those are kind of the target spaces where they want to go next with this technology. So I'll leave it at that. Thank you so much.
RIAN THUM: Thank you all for coming. And thank you to Zuly and the whole team for organizing this really impressive event.
As we've already seen from the other presentations, the history of the construction of what really looks like an ethno totalitarian state in Xinjiang is deeper than just the last couple of years. And I would throw out one example of that, just to give you another sense of that. Already, as early as 2010 or 2011, a lot of Uyghurs were required to have something called a people's convenience card, or what they colloquially called a green card, which required them to get permission to move from one city to another. And by 2015, that was pretty much widespread.
So this is a-- we should have already been-- the alarm bells should have already been ringing for the rest of the world that something sort of uniquely awful was unfolding. But what really caught the world's attention was the building of mass internment camps, and the imprisonment of an estimated high hundreds of thousands, up to two million people in those camps.
And what I want to do is just step back a little bit and talk about-- focus on that, and talk about the evidence base. And you'll get some more of the evidence base from other speakers later, in terms of testimonies from people on the satellite images. So I will focus on the evidence that comes from the mouth of the Chinese state itself. Because there is a lot of it. And enough to make this undeniable.
So the basic claim I want to talk about is the-- well, let me just introduce a little bit about these camps. The people who are put in these are put in them without any criminal charges, without any trial. They never come before a judge, they don't have a lawyer. There is no appeal. And in many, perhaps most cases, there is no notification of family members. People simply disappear.
I think in some ways, in terms of the world gaining recognition, gaining awareness of what was going on, the most important evidence may have been the system by which the Chinese state advertised for contractors to build these camps. A German scholar named Adrian Zenz recognized that the Chinese state was advertising bids openly online for construction companies to compete to build these camps. And he harvested about 50 something of these notices, and used that to produce the first really thorough study of the camp system, which came-- this study came out in about 2018-- March, was it? April? 2018?
A lot of the journalism and reporting that's followed has been based ultimately on this kind of evidence. And it struck me that these bids have not actually been shown to the public very much. So I wanted to show one to you. Most of these have now been scrubbed from the internet by the authorities, because they realize how damning they are. But we have screenshots of them. And some of them have been preserved on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
So here's a typical example calling for the construction of a so-called legal system education transformation school in the town of [INAUDIBLE], which is [INAUDIBLE] in Chinese. You can see, some of the information is blacked out. You have to be like a registered participant in the system to see it. But a lot of it is open to the public.
For example, you can see that it is the United Front Work Department that is calling for this construction. And if you scroll down on a lot of these, you can get some details of what kind of equipment any bidder will have to provide if they're going to build these camps. So for example, this one has a lot of very specialized security terminology on different forms of fence, which I've somewhat-- fencing and bars and things-- which I've somewhat crudely translated here.
So this is a major kind of evidence that journalists then followed up on and created even larger investigations. Here's a really important piece of journalism-- that I think has not been paid enough attention to-- by AFP that looked at over 1,000 documents from the state that they found online, which catalogs a lot of the kinds of equipment that these so-called training schools have. Electric cattle prods, spiked clubs, stun guns, razor wire.
Another interesting thing you can see from these documents is the changing of names for these institutions over time. And they're kind of-- it's kind of a modular naming system. They start out-- I'm just giving you a representative sample-- they start out talking about eliminating extremism. Then they go, for a little while, you get this legal system thing, which is sprinkled throughout. Most common uniting factor is the idea of education and transformation, which you see over the course of two and a half years. And then ultimately, settling on what they call them today, which is a vocational skills education training center.
But the mixing and matching of these different model modular units makes it clear that these are basically the same kind of institution with the names changing over time.
I also want to point out the range of dates here. One of the things that's striking about this program of internment camp construction is how incredibly fast it has unfolded. We get our first calls for the construction of these new buildings around the summer of 2016. Meaning that basically, if we just take this sort of middle ground estimate of the number of people of a million, which is like 10% of the Uyghur population, that means that these facilities to house a million people have been built in the short space of only two years.
While I'm at it, I would also like to point out that this disappearance of about a million people is on top of a pre-existing mass incarceration problem. So even before this mass internment program was rolled out, Xinjiang had a problem very similar to the mass incarceration of African-Americans in the US, whereby Uyghurs were disproportionately targeted in sentencing and in arrests, disproportionately poorly represented in court-- not that there are very many acquittals in the Chinese justice system. So there was already an enormous number of Uyghursm particularly Uyghur men in the Chinese prison system. This is outside of that this is an extra legal system that just added an additional 10% of the Uyghur population in those two years.
OK. Another fascinating source of evidence that we get from the Chinese state itself is its propaganda. And if you like most people have sort of come recently to this story, you're probably most likely to be familiar with the propaganda that sells these camps as benign skills training centers. And the state has produced several videos that are filmed in staged camps. They take real camps, and then they make some alterations to them.
For example, one that you can see on satellite photos is that they add fake sports courts in the yards outside, or paint like a symbol of a sports team on the pavement. Here, you can see a still from one of those videos. And one of the things that's different here is the kind of people that they've put in for this staged video. You can see that it's mixed gender, it's younger people. And this, I think, is probably aimed at making this look more like what we would think of as a school. When, in fact, other images we have from inside, which I'll show you in a moment, are all segregated by gender. And they tend to include a lot more people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.
Another thing that we see that's different here from what we otherwise know about the camps is that we know that many of these interment and indoctrination camps have a set of bars or wires that separate the teacher from the student.
So these, actually-- this has been a very effective propaganda move by the state, because since there is a dearth of images for the Western media to use when they want to illustrate their stories, they've often taken these stills from these propaganda videos and said "image from a camp." Well, it's not really an image from a camp. It's an image from a staged version of the camp.
Nonetheless, this propaganda drive has given us some actual data that might be-- well, it's not reliable, but it certainly has gestured to things that turned out to be true from reports from inside. For example, this was really the first way that we got a sense that there was a large forced labor component to the internment system. This is an image from a tour that was just given to journalists a couple of days ago.
But this wasn't always the way the state wanted to represent these centers. And you've probably seen this image. This comes from officials in Xinjiang, from a period in which there was a lot more interest in showing local audience-- and showing audiences of other officials that we, the state, are taking care of these dangerous and backwards Uyghurs. And so you see a lot more emphasis in the imagery that was coming out around 2017 on the fences, on the huge number of police guards, on orderly rows, on uniforms-- this kind of thing.
And if I have time at the end of this-- which I'm not sure I will because I forgot-- I don't know if I will, because I forgot to start my clock-- but if I have time, I'll show you where you can access the original government post of this image.
We also have the changing story of the Chinese state. As Zuli mentioned, there was an earlier set of soft denials. And we're not sure about this. We can't confirm that these exist. Or maybe a few times they said they don't exist to foreign audiences. And then that transitioned into well, these are actually benevolent education and skills training centers. At first, they implied that they were not voluntary. But then they had a new propaganda that said have all these people in these staged camps, saying we're here voluntarily.
Well recently, I think it was about three weeks, four weeks ago, they came out-- the state came out with a new white paper that actually listed what they say are the reasons for people going into the camps. And they say the people in the camps are those who participated in terrorist or extremist activities in circumstances that were not serious enough to constitute a crime.
What kind of terrorist or extremist activity is not serious enough to constitute a crime? That may seem on its face to be kind of ridiculous. It's more ridiculous if you look at the Chinese terrorism law, which includes things like engaging in thought that supports extremism. So even the things you think can be a crime, under Chinese terrorist law. But these are the folks who don't even rise to that level. These are things for which you can't-- and also, really heartbreakingly, number three is people who've already served out prison sentences, who are arbitrarily deemed to need further internment.
One last kind of evidence I want to talk about that comes from the mouth of representatives of the state is the responses that police officers in the region have given to journalists who cold call their stations. A lot of this has been done by Radio Free Asia, which has a really powerful group of Uyghur-speaking reporters. It's also been done by other journalistic outfits. And one of the really striking things that has come out of what police say is an expression of concern from police officers about not being able to meet quotas that they've been given. We have reports of quotas of 20%. The highest one that police have reported was 40% somewhere in Karkash.
And in this environment where the police feel like it's very difficult to choose who will go into the internment camps, they've had to resort to some pretty fine grained analysis of people's behavior. And some of the things that either the police have given, or relatives have been told by police as the reasons that their family members were chosen for interment, include not watching state TV, giving up smoking, traveling to a foreign country. And right now, essentially, any Uyghur who returns from a foreign country to-- all known cases, people without dual citizenship returning to China end with the disappearance of that person. Expressing interest in traveling to a foreign country, having WhatsApp on your smartphone.
This is something to remember if you're hearing claims-- well, well, no this is-- you're going to hear people say, well, this is a way of controlling terrorism or controlling resistance to the state. This is what they're actually controlling.
And I also want to point out an interesting thing in the photo that Darren put up of all the different kinds of clothes you can't wear, and appearances you can't have. One of those images is actually taken-- is an image of Keanu Reeves, one of the bearded images. Because I think when it's put in the context of Islamic extremism, it's easy for some people to see a bearded person as potentially a threat, given the Islamophobic media environment that we live in. And I think it's quite powerful to point out that one of their examples of what an extremist looks like is a paparazzi photo of Keanu Reeves.
OK. How much time do I have, since I failed to time myself? OK, great. All right. So that's all I'll talk about for the evidence part.
I want to use the remaining time to make three general points. More interpretive points. And then show you a database project that I'm working on to help Uyghurs report their friends and loved ones who have disappeared.
So the first general point is one that probably doesn't need much evidence, given the presentations that preceded me. But that is that the camps, for all the emphasis they get in the media, are really one part of a larger system of control of the Uyghur. They're an extremely important part, not just for the people in the camps, but for their effect on the people outside the camps.
As in any place where people are subject to extreme efforts of control from the state, in Xinjiang, Uyghurs have long had very creative means of evading control.
The example I like to use is that the high prevalence of banned books. Books banned by the state are often very innocuous fiction and sort of standard religious texts that would not raise any eyebrows anywhere else in the world. But Uyghurs used to have-- it was very easy to find banned books in Xinjiang as of five years ago. There were whole publishing industries putting-- underground publishing industries making everybody's favorite novels that the state doesn't like.
That is gone now and people are now burning their own books. They're now burying their own books voluntarily. And the reason is that they now know, because everyone has had a family member or a friend, or more likely many family members and many friends, disappear overnight without any sort of recourse or opportunity for appeal. People know very well that they live outside the camps solely at the whim of the security services.
And so now the game is not so much figuring out how to get around the rules, but rather figuring out how to predict what the rules might be. And you can get a sense from the previous slide of reasons used to select people for the camps, of how unpredictable these rules might be. It's not published anywhere that you have to greet official on the street, or you might go to the camp. So people are really in the business of trying to predict what it is the state might not like.
And that really serves as a disciplinary backstop to everything else that's going on. The checkpoints like you see here. the high presence of police who get really great cooperation from Uyghurs, because they know that at any moment, they can be disappeared. Darren already talked about that.
Rules for regulating how people behave in public. For example, this sign which says you cannot pray in public. Monitoring of the mosques, which is then where you should pray ostensibly. But of course, if you do pray in the mosque, then you fill out the kind of forms that Darren was talking about. Your score drops on how much of a trustworthy person you are.
And it means that Uyghurs are more-- what's the right word-- apparently enthusiastically participating in so-called ethnic unity programs, where they are compelled to interact with Han fellow citizens in kind of constrained, artificial events.
The most extreme version of this is the Becoming Family Program, in which, according to Chinese state media, over one million public employees in China, Han ethnicity, Han majority, have been sent into Uyghur homes to become fictive family with them. And when they're there, they monitor them. They keep notes on their behavior. And in many cases, as Darren Byler's work has shown, test them, by doing things like offering them alcohol, and seeing if they wince when they take it. And here, you can see an image of that. And even going so far as to sleep in their beds with them.
A point that proceeds from this, which I think is relevant to the academic community, which we need to think about carefully and systematically, is that this is a situation in workers in which Uyghurs cannot give consent. And this is important for people who are thinking about doing research in Xinjiang for university programs that have collaborative efforts with partners in China who engage in research programs in Xinjiang. And it's something I think is worth reviewing in our, for example, institutional review boards for research projects. There needs to be some special consideration for Xinjiang, which looks-- has many of the characteristics that make research in prisons kind of a red flag for IRB research review-- namely, the inability to consent.
One other thing I want to-- my last of my three general points is that I often get the question of, why are they doing this? What is the end goal? What do the leaders in the CCP have in mind for this system? Where are they heading? Obviously, we can't know that. More importantly, I don't think they know. No one can predict what to what purposes these camps will be put in five years. And we know historically that when large infrastructure is built to imprison lots of people based on their ethnicity, that often the goals of those camps can change. For which reason, I think we need to keep our eyes open for the possibility of-- there doesn't seem to be a goal of mass killing at the moment. But that does not mean that can't be something that might emerge later.
All right. I think I have a few minutes left, with which I will take advantage of this moment, where I think there are a fair number of Uyghurs who are in the audience. And also-- oh, this is the wrong one. This is the source of the now famous image. A story that was passed around on WeChat, and promoted by a government bureau.
But since the Facebook stream will have a lot of Uyghurs watching, I think, I want to introduce a website that has been generously designed by a company in Germany called Enlightenment, which does kind of a mix of database construction and political consulting. And this website is designed to allow Uyghurs to report on missing friends and family members. The web addresses is izdeymiz.org. It's the [INAUDIBLE] we are searching. I-z-d-e-y-m-i-z dot org.
And you'll see an incredible database project later today by Gene Bunin, which is designed to collect the testimonies of people who've been in the camps, and people whose relatives have been sent to the camps. Those are people who have kind of stuck their neck out, and risked retribution from the authorities in Xinjiang. And often, actually, that has led to the release of their relatives in Xinjiang.
But this database is designed for a slightly different purpose, which is to preserve the anonymity of the reporter as much as possible. I hope you all know that every time you go to a website, it's collecting all kinds of information about your computer. And that information can be used to identify you. So our security approach here is to actually not keep data that we don't want to get hacked. So the amount of data collected is minimal. And the user can actually change whatever data is collected to protect their own privacy.
And if you are a non-Uyghur speaker, and you try this out and it's not working, that's because there's like a captcha thing at the bottom that is a question in Uyghur that you have to answer correctly.
OK. I'll wrap up there. And thank you all for your attention.
ZULKAYDA MAMAT: Yes, now please have the three speakers at the front. We'll have our Q&A session, but only for maybe 10 minutes. So at this time, if you have any questions, please come to the two mics that are over here. And we would like to ask that-- we only have time for one question per person. So please give everyone the opportunity to ask their question. So your time will be limited at the mic. So thank you in advance for that. So we can have our first question.
AUDIENCE: You talked about there are some Uyghurs who speak Chinese, who in the internment camp get to work on the textile. And I'm just curious, what about Uyghurs who don't speak Chinese? I mean, what happen to them. And I guess there has to be Uyghur-speaking people sort of working-- communicating with them in the camp, I guess. Yeah, so that's my question.
DARREN BYLER: So my understanding-- and it's somewhat limited, because we don't have direct access to the camps-- but my understanding based on interviews from people that have been detained and then released is that the camp space itself is a Chinese medium space only. You're not permitted to speak Uyghur in that space.
The rooms that people live in have microphones in them. And even in some of the images that Rian was showing from the first batch of propaganda images from that kind of Potemkin camps was-- you could see microphones in them. And people talked about this-- the microphones are listening to us so we can't speak Uyghur. If we speak Uyghur, we will be punished. There's also cameras in most of the spaces, where they have kind of full access and view of people. And even the bid reports, they talk about this, that they need the camera systems that will be comprehensive so there's no blank spaces.
So there's kind of complete control inside the camp. My understanding from people that I know that went to the camps not knowing a lot of Chinese is that they're-- one of the main things that they focused on was Chinese language education, learning Chinese. And so you actually have to pass Chinese language exams to move up into the like most minimum security levels of the system. And then eventually, you can graduate or something like that to the forced labor internship program.
This is sort of the general sense we have. I don't have a lot of specifics about how all it works in every case. But this is the general sense I get from it.
Yeah. And you'll be punished if you do speak Uyghur. So, I mean, most people know a little basic Chinese. But they have to learn very quickly how you ask for things in Chinese. They're listening to speeches, oftentimes. There's distance learning that's happening in some spaces. But they're actually taking Chinese language class everyday, for hours at a time.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for everything that you've said so far, and for being here today
I had a question about how-- we understand that technology has played a really important role in Uyghurs communicating with each other, learning the status of friends and family who are in these camps across borders. Also, as you've talked about, as we'll see more today, the surveillance technology is something which has the capacity to betray people-- to reveal these so-called extremist thoughts, or something which may be subversive to the state.
So I'm wondering if you could reflect on how people's relationship to their personal technology, particularly smartphones, has shifted in how they're-- basically, how they're relating to intimately used technology.
DARREN BYLER: Sure, I'll answer that. Thanks for coming. Good to see you.
So my sense from when I was there in April is that people now-- especially younger people have smartphones, and they're still using them. But they're using them for political performance, in a lot of ways. Like on a daily basis or weekly basis, you need to post political content, showing your loyalty to the state. And so it becomes that sort of space for them.
Not having a smartphone, going through a checkpoint where their smartphone is asked for, is also looked at as suspicious, especially if you're of a certain age and socioeconomic status. Some people I think try to game the system slightly by having a dumb phone, not a smartphone. But I think you have to like-- it really depends on your social positionality as to whether or not that's an effective strategy for pushing back against the system.
You're right to point out that the technology is both tracking people, but also enabling us to see in real time how these things are developing over time, how information is flowing around the world. And so there's ways that we can sort of hack the system, by getting that information and getting it out to the world. And so that's something that's new in an internment camp system, is having security technology that's integrated with the world. The market is also doing this with the bid contracts, that are there to give us a trail. Follow the money.
AUDIENCE: Professors Roberts, Byler and Thum, I hope I'm saying that right-- thank you. You have actually taken a step that very few academicians sometimes take, in relating to something that is as controversial as the Uyghur issue. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I'm with the Save Uyghur Project.
The question for you is-- let's go back a few years to the beginnings of the 2000s, when the Han Chinese are moving in and they're trying to develop the area commercially. Typically, if there have been no attacks as such against the general population, you would think that they would try to actually integrate the Uyghur into economic development. However, the Chinese actually chose to isolate them. Is there any aspect of economic-- what do you say-- you know, essentially economic genocide in this case, if I might term it as such. Have you been able to formulate any opinions on that? Thank you.
RIAN THUM: Well, Uyghurs did not benefit as much as you might hope from the economic development that's taken place over the last 20 or 30 years. It's quite normal to advertise positions and say that Uyghurs are not allowed to apply for the positions. And in fact, in basic manual labor employment a lot of the employees were brought in from the interior of China, or were migrant laborers from the interior of China.
For example, if you look at the old city of Kashgar, which was destroyed and then rebuilt in a kind of Disneyland tourist type of replica of the city, a huge number of the people who were engaged in that rebuilding were Chinese workers from the interior.
So there doesn't seem to have been a concerted effort-- despite a lot of government officials' claims that the opening up the west campaign and the economic developments campaign were hoped to quell Uyghur dissatisfaction with the state-- there doesn't seem to be much effort put in to make sure that economic development would directly benefit the Uyghurs.
Aside from the benefits of roads, expanded electricity-- which a lot of Uyghurs in the countryside have told me they really appreciate, the actual economic activity in creating those was mostly made unavailable to Uyghurs.
SEAN ROBERTS: And I think one of the things that's interesting is there was a portion of the Uyghur population that actually did benefit economically significantly during that period. And a lot of those people now, I'm seeing them reflect on-- people who are maybe outside the country reflecting on social media about their parents, and also people I've met in Turkey-- who are kind of dumbfounded that now they're being attacked. Because they were kind of trying to-- they were trying to integrate, and they were benefiting.
And I think one of the things that concerns me is that in some cases-- I think, you know, if you look at what's happening in some of the presentations that Rian-- some of the things Rian and Darren were saying-- it seems that these camps and who's interned is somewhat arbitrary, and somewhat decided on the local level.
And I don't have any kind of hard evidence for this, but I'm concerned that to some degree, there may be some people that actually have significant amount of property who end up getting interned. And that property may be going to other sources, possibly in the local government.
And so we might be seeing at least on the local level, not necessarily centrally planned, some sort of land grab also involved in this.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. I'm Dennis. I'm Fulbright visiting researcher from Slovenia, former Yugoslavia. I have like two short questions, so sorry for that. If you can compare the situation in Uyghuristan with what was going on in Tibet, and also if you want to compare the camps after the war-- was this like similar to what is going on now? And the third part is also how can you compare also what is going on with Uyghurs and Hui Chinese? Is there some similarities?
But for my research focus is most important, I am thinking about how Han Chinese think about this, if you go outside the propaganda? Do they have information about what is going on in Uyghuristan? Or is this also the question of-- I don't know-- big minority of the Chinese, not know what was going on in Tiananmen Square? Something like that?
Even when, I don't know, if Chinese come here to study-- maybe you talk with how they feel about this. Is this like, they feel like this is an attack on their ethnicity or on their country when you're talking about those things, because of the lack of the informations? Thank you very much.
RIAN THUM: I'll talk about the Hui and leaders.
Islam is generally seen by the party in China as a foreign religion, and explicitly in policy proclamations, as a religion in need of synthesization, of transforming to be more Chinese. And that policy not only affects the Uyghurs, but also the Hui, which is the ethnic group distinguished from the Han most by their practice of Islam. They're Chinese speaking for the most part.
And so we've seen some increasing pressure on the Hui. And Hui people in some parts of China are quite nervous. It's ranged from the widespread-- what's the right word-- not demolition, but the transformation of mosques. They're taking the domes off of mosques. And then in some cases, even rebuilding the minarets to look like what the state views as truly Chinese architecture. A river has been renamed in [INAUDIBLE]. But even in Beijing, there was a closure of a very important Islamic bookstore. There have been closures of some mosques in [INAUDIBLE].
So this is-- the government's nervousness about Islam in general, which is supported by widespread Islamophobia online that often takes the form of han netizens complaining about things being called halal or ritually pure by Muslims. So yeah, the Hui are nervous, but they have a long-standing reputation as being closer to the majority ethnic group and therefore more trustworthy than the Uyghurs. It's a mix of racism and Islamophobia that results in stronger attention to the Uyghurs, but also some on the Hui.
DARREN BYLER: And just to speak quickly about the way Han people in other parts of China view this, in general, people in China don't know the extent of what's happening there. They may have heard that there is more security, that Xinjiang is now safe and so they can go there to travel. That's something I hear from my own students and their parents talking about Xinjiang. But in general, I don't think they understand the extent to which people have been taken to camps. They think it's exaggerated by the West.
And they think the camps themselves are not camps but actually schools. Even in Xinjiang itself, Han people were telling me that they don't know really what's going on in those camps, or they would call them schools. But they did understand that it's punishment, that they must have done something to go to the camp. And so they do have a sense, to some extent, that there is something going on in terms of a criminal justice kind of positioning or a criminal-- it's a carceral system, but not-- they can't speak freely about it, and so they don't really have a sense of it.
Others though, especially people that are involved in the system, see it as a benefit to them, that now finally the Xinjiang problem is being resolved, the Uyghurs are being tamed by this system, and they see it as a success. They like the technology also. They see the technology as cutting edge, and it means that China is advancing and really protecting their interests.
ZULKAYDA MAMAT: All right. At this time, I think we're short.
JOHN TIRMAN: Let's thank the panel.
ZULKAYDA MAMAT: Thank you. So for the next hour, we will hear three talks focusing more on the theme of technology. And first, we will have Ms. Jessica Batke, whose articles on the crisis I read almost religiously, I would say, in recent years to get a better grasp of the scale of the crisis. Next, we will have Mr. Gene Bunin, whose absolute devotion to the humanitarian catastrophe, as he would call it, gives hope to everyone that humanity will triumph one day.
JESSICA BATKE: Hi, everyone. Thanks again for having me here. And I hope now that you're fed and watered, we're ready for a session two. I'm here to talk a little bit more about the evidentiary basis for what we know about what's happening in the Uyghur region. And Rian already talked to a lot about this. But I'll just say part of the reason that we have to have this conversation is because the Chinese government has made it very difficult to know firsthand what's happening in a lot of these places.
It's really hard for independent researchers or journalists to get in there and do independent investigative reporting. But despite that, there are a number of means at our disposal that allow us to understand the scale and scope of this mass incarceration campaign, and indeed be very confident that it's actually happening. As Zuly said at the beginning, it's not a controversy. It's actually happening.
So what are the things from which we can draw evidence and estimates? And Rian already talked about one of those, and that's the government say-so. That's what they're telling us themselves. So that includes the procurement documents that he showed you, and also their own propaganda. These documents, though, have allowed us-- have led us to another really important means for understanding the scale and the scope of what's happening, and that is satellite imagery.
So these notices, these procurement notices or tender notices, a lot of times will give a very specific location for where they'd like to build a facility. And so that allows researchers to go on Google Earth or other satellite imagery programs and look at those locations over time. Has this location changed? How so? When? What was there before? What's there now? And what are some visual markers that we can look for in these satellite images to understand what it is that we're actually seeing?
Are there things that we can see that indicate that this is a place that people are being held against their will and not just some vocational education school? So this first example is from a BBC report, and it's a really striking example because it's basically constructed out of whole cloth. You can see this is from July 2015. It's a pretty empty site. And then, by April 2018, you have this facility there.
The BBC reporters who were doing this actually did go-- this facility is about an hour outside of Urumqi. They went there. They tried to go. They of course were not allowed to go in. But what they did once they were in town was just cold call a bunch of random local businesses and ask them what was there, and people did in fact say it's re-education school. One person said, "Yes, that's a re-education school. There are tens of thousands of people there now. They have some problems with their thoughts." In case there's any question what a re-education school is.
And then, this is-- so this is the same facility in April 2018. And it's not just that they're being built, but they're constantly being expanded. This image isn't quite as good, but you can see it's much larger. And that's just from April to October. And Darren already talked about how some of these are also having factories added onto them. So it's not just that these camps are appearing out of nowhere, but that they're always being expanded, or at least some of them are.
So those are new facilities. In other cases, the government has appropriated facilities that were already in existence and modified them to make them suitable for incarcerating people. This comes from Shawn Zhang, who is a law student in Canada. He's done a lot of amazing research on satellite imagery. And you can see this is in [INAUDIBLE], and this is in 2017 on the left, and then 2018 on the right. And you can see that this sports field's been covered over with buildings which are likely-- they could be dorms for inmates. And again, he knows that this is a facility because there was a procurement notice put up asking for bids to do construction in this location.
So let's talk a little bit more about what lets people know, besides-- or at least confirm from the-- once you've got the location from the procurement notices, how can you confirm maybe that this is a site? Two of the most really obvious visual markers that people are relying on are watchtowers and razor wire fences. And you can see these. You can see the shadow of the watchtower down there at the bottom. And an image-- this is again from Shawn Zhang's research.
Interestingly, there was a really good report I recommend everyone take a look at, came out yesterday by Bloomberg. And reporters were taken on a tour of a re-educate facility-- so-called re-education facility. And of course, the reporters were shown a very happy place where people were learning lots of great life skills. But really interestingly, if you looked at satellite images of that camp last year, you saw watchtowers and razor wire fences.
And just before the reporters were allowed to go in for this visit, there were no watchtowers and razor wire fences. So it remains to be seen whether that is something that's going to happen across these facilities now that the Chinese government knows that outside researchers are using these as markers to determine the nature of these facilities, or if that's just something that's temporary that was done for this particular set of reporters. We don't know yet.
So just looking at the satellite images, experts and academics have been able to make estimates about how many people could plausibly be held in these locations. So this is back to this example from the beginning, Dabancheng outside Urumqi. The BBC consulted several teams of experts with relevant expertise, and they came up with estimates of how many people they thought that this facility could hold.
And on in the low end, it was 11,000. That number is as large as-- is on par with the largest prisons on Earth. And that assumes that each inmate would have their own sleeping quarters. From a lot of witness testimony, we know that's probably not the case. And in fact, one of the experts said that 11,000 is likely a significant underestimate.
The large-- the high end of the estimate 130,000 detainees. And that assumes that people are being housed in dormitories. So we don't really know. And as we know-- as you can see, this is not a very precise estimate. But if you have this kind of capacity, you really don't need a lot of these facilities to start approaching being able to hold a million people-- incarcerate a million people.
Oh. Sorry. In a separate analysis, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, they also went and analyzed 28 facilities, again looking from satellite images. And they saw that just in those 28 facilities there was 2.7 million square meters of floor space. And again, not all camps are the same size. They're not all that big. But really, if you have something like that, you don't need a ton of those before you're able to start incarcerating the million figure that people have been citing.
So we have the government telling you themselves what these things are. We have satellite imagery. And we also have extrapolation based on reporting on the ground and interviews with people on the ground. So two case studies have independently, or at least as of last year independently, arrived at around one million people being incarcerated in these facilities.
The first estimate is from the German scholar Adrian Zenz, who Rian mentioned earlier. There was a document that was purportedly leaked from public security authorities in Xinjiang and made its way to Newsweek Japan. This is part of it, not all of it. This shows the counties here on the left, and then this gray column is the number of people incarcerated in each of those places. And it said that there was nearly 900,000 people incarcerated in 68 counties in Xinjiang as of spring 2018.
But this is not a complete data set. It was missing a number of large population centers. So what Zenz did was he used the figures that were available here to generate an estimated detention rate. And he generated one estimated detention rate for areas that are proportionately high in ethnic minority population, and a different detention rate for areas that have a higher percentage of Han population, on the assumption that in areas where there's more ethnic minorities, you're going to see a higher rate of incarceration.
So he used this estimate and applied it across Xinjiang, which include the places that were not in this data set. He came up with about a 10% incarceration rate in minority majority areas and 5% in Han majority areas. And so he used that to generate an estimate of how many people are going to be-- were incarcerated at that time. And he came up with the figure you can see there-- anywhere between several hundred thousand and just over one million.
Now, he's since updated this, just last month I think, up to 1.5 million. And as you can see, that's nearly one in six people, adult members of the ethnic minority community in Xinjiang. He updated this estimate based on satellite images and witness testimony. And the second estimate that we have-- similarly, it's an extrapolative estimate done by the Chinese Human Rights Defenders. They called people throughout 2017 and 2018. They called eight different villages in southern Xinjiang, southern Xinjiang having a higher percentage of ethnic minority populations.
And these were the estimates that they got from those interviewees how many people were detained in their villages. So they used those to estimate detention rates. And again, they ended up around one million as an estimate for the entire province of people being detained. And that includes people that are incarcerated around the clock. That number does not include people that are attending daytime or evening time re-education sessions.
And even work that doesn't go this far, people that aren't necessarily generating detention-- or region-wide detention estimates, they're still-- as was mentioned earlier, people reporting detention quotas in different areas. So Radio Free Asia, as Rian mentioned, cold calls people. They've done a lot of really great reporting on this. And they have reported in various areas that local officials have told them that they have a 10% detention quota that they have to meet. They have to detain 10% of the people in that area. One person said 40%.
So these are all in line with each other. Reporting that we're hearing from independent sources all point to this general figure, at least as of last year. And as I mentioned earlier, these are not precise estimates. It's incredibly hard to be precise because people are not allowed to go in and ask questions and do independent investigations. But I think that they are credible.
And I would also point to State Department estimates. In March of this year, the State Department said that 800,000 to possibly more than 2 million Uyghurs have been or are being held. The problem with the State Department estimates, of course, is that we can't see the math behind them. We don't know what they're based on. I am really biased. I used to work there. This is exactly the sort of thing that I would have been working on. So I tend to put great stock in them, but that's me. I'm a biased observer in that case.
Other suggestive trends. What other things can we use that strongly support all the rest of the evidence that we have? Another one is the arrests, that we have seen a massive jump in arrests over the last few years. So if you look between 2016 and 2017, there was a 700% increase in criminal detentions in Xinjiang.
And both Chinese Human Rights Defenders and Radio Free Asia report that at least some of these detentions are the result of people that were first held in these camps-- which, as has been mentioned before, extra legal. They're outside the judicial system. So people get swept up in a camp, and then they're transferred over to the formal criminal justice system for prosecution. We do not know how many people went into the formal criminal justice system through this mechanism, but it's an incredible amount of people.
So even if you said maybe only 10% of these arrests could be accounted for by people who were first in camps, that's still 20,000 people. If you think that more of these arrests come from people that were transferred over from the camp system, you're looking at hundreds of thousands of people. So again, it's not hard to start getting towards a million people being detained is a very reasonable estimate for what's happening.
Finally, another very strong piece of evidence about what's happening in these camps and that gives us an accurate picture of the scale and scope and really the nature of what's happening are witness testimonies. And that is what Gene is going to talk about next, so I'll leave it there.
GENE A. BUNIN: OK. So thank you, Jessica, for the nice segue. I'm going to do something very cliche first and thank the organizers. So thank you for inviting me to come and speak here. It's very rare that I actually get out to this part of the world. Usually, I'm based as close to Xinjiang as possible, ideally in Xinjiang, but I can't really go back there now, so mostly in Central Asia. But so it's very nice to come here to meet everybody and to see all of you guys and talk to you about these very important issues.
So what I'm going to talk about today will be something that I've been working on for the past, let's say-- more or less full-time for the past seven months. So it's a personal initiative, and it's my way to try to help put an end to this thing that's happening in Xinjiang right now. And were I wiser, I probably would have started this, I don't know, a year earlier. Or maybe, were I really wise, I probably would have started taking photos of IDs of people that I met in Xinjiang maybe 10 years earlier and just storing them so I could then later know who they were in case they were detained. But alas, still better late than never.
So basically, this is my project. It's-- well, hopefully it will be "our project," quote-unquote, as more and more people get involved. But it's a victim's database. And it's actually the grueling work of going through the victims who are in Xinjiang currently, in Xinjiang's current reality or were there at some point recently, and counting them one by one and list-- collecting testimonies about them from relatives and friends abroad and building that all into a database which is actually publicly available here at shahit.biz.
So if you have a smartphone, if you have a laptop, and you want to just take it out and browse and play around, you're more than welcome to. I won't be offended. So my goal here is really very tutorial. This database has gotten more and more attention recently in the media among other people, but still I imagine most people in this room probably have not looked at it, do not know how it works, or don't know the fine details. So I'm going to explain that and also justify why I think it's important to have something like this and how you could use it.
So before I do all that, I'm going to try to confuse you. And so the goal of this slide is to confuse you. But in so doing, I want to impress upon you a very important point, and that's when we talk about Xinjiang in the media and probably in conferences like this, we focus on camps. I think Rian already mentioned this. It's not really just camps. It's much, much more than that.
But if you actually try to dig into how complicated it is, it gets really ugly. And so I guess what I'm trying to do is, if you want to talk about and focus on camps, that's totally fine. But at least keep in mind that the whole system, all of Xinjiang today, it's not an understatement-- sorry, it's not an exaggeration, it's not an overstatement to say that the whole place is really a big camp.
So camps are one part of this. And this is like pick your poison. By no means-- I could talk about this for hours, and every one of these arrows actually has an argument behind it. And we could talk for hours about every one of these arrows and what the evidence for those is. I don't have time to do that right now, so I'm just going to gloss over all of this.
So the camps or the camp system-- because actually, there's various types of camps. Some are lenient. Some closer to, say, prisons. The camps are just one part. Then, of course, you have prisons, the formal prisons, which are another part. Another part that I think has not gotten very much attention but probably should is the suos. And suos is a Chinese term. So there's [SPEAKING CHINESE] and these are like the police detention centers.
And often, they're transit points, so we don't hear about them. But often people go there, and then they get taken to a camp or to a prison. And sometimes people stay there for quite a while. And so these are like the black holes. These are probably the worst places in terms of things like torture because their job is often to interrogate, to investigate, to get people to admit crimes.
And so these are maybe the worst. This is where you hear the worst of the stories that come out from Xinjiang. They're often from this suos. And so actually, like Mihrigul Tursun's testimony, Gulbakhar Jalilova's, Abduweli Ayup's. They're actually not from camps. They're from the suos. And I think that's also an important distinction just to keep in mind.
But even if you're not in these kind of, let's say, proper incarceration places, you can also, let's say, leave a camp and go to a forced-- some sort of forced labor. They can be a factory, but there's also testimonies that talk about people being forced to work as security guards, people being forced to work at the kindergarten. People who, let's say, are teachers normally to go and to teach at one of the camps again. So there's many things that people can be forced to do. And that too is a type of detention.
Then there's hospitals, some of which are partially converted to camps now. There are hospitals, for example, where the first, I don't know, nine floors will be normal, for normal people and for normal patients, and then everything above that will be for camp detainees. And so that's another type of detention.
Then, for kids whose parents have been taken, you have orphanages. That's a type of detention because these kids have no choice. They have to go there. Then, on top of that, you also have what I decided to call community correction because it's very similar to the way that minor offenders seem to be treated in China in general.
And that's people like drug addicts, for example. They are forced to stay in their community, and they cannot leave without permission. They have to go to frequent, let's say, sessions, meetings. And they're constantly watched to see what they're doing. And this is what a lot of people in Xinjiang are in fact under right now, is a sort of community correction. So they have to go to flag raising ceremonies, political meetings. They have checkpoints on the streets. They constantly check their ID, their phone, and they're constantly being surveilled. So this too is a type of detention. This is probably the one that most people are under.
And of course, more abstract-- here I really generalized-- but ultimate form of detention is death. Because in most, if not all, of these other forms of detention, people do prematurely die. And that's been documented. I think now in a database we have something like 3,600 testimonies collected. About 62 of those are people who are dead. So it's about 1 1/2 percent of the database is dead. So here, I just want to say that when I'm talking about Xinjiang victims and documenting them, we're talking not about just even camps or even camps and prisons, but all of this.
So why-- why is there-- why did this database get created? As I said, I would have done it much earlier. But I guess the most simple reason was that in the summer of 2018, there was a rise in the number of testimonies-- quote-unquote "testimonies," very informal testimonies that started to show up from friends and relatives on things like social networks. So these will be very simple.
For example, a person could just hold up a phone and say my, name is da-da-da. My father, da-da-da, is currently being held in a camp since April of last year, and I want to ask international rights organization, I want to ask the president of my country, to help me do something about that. And people would post that on social networks. And the problem with that is that on social networks, people comment, and then people like them, people share them, and two days later, people just tend to move on and forget them, and they're not documented.
So in, let's say, the late summer of-- oh, I can't go back. In the late summer of last year, there started to be more and more of these coming out. And so it seemed like there was a need to do something with them and start to collect them. And I just want to point out something that's actually quite loud here is that this was in the summer of-- I'm saying in the late summer of 2018 people started talking about this more and coming out and testifying. Whereas the detentions, they started maybe in the April of 2017. So it took a year and a half after people had been detained already for people to start going out and saying, oh hey, by the way, my father, my family members are in detention, and going public about it, which says something in itself.
Now, there's a lot of other reasons that went into this, and I will try to quickly gloss over these. I think the most primary reason for why I thought this would be useful was this inspiration, this more abstract goal of inspiring more people to speak out. Because it's very, very hard to speak out if there's maybe 10 other people doing it, because as soon as you do it, you're afraid that the Chinese government is going to punish your relatives. Or the relatives who are not in detention right now may be put in detention because you went public about your family.
But of course, once you have hundreds of these, once you have thousands of these, hopefully once we have tens of thousands of these, it's not a scary because you just see this big pile of testimonies. You add yours, and then it will be lost. And so it's not such a big step then to add it. And so that was one goal. Another goal was to try to, at least symbolically, get the different ethnic groups to work together.
Because this is really funny. Again, we often talk about this as an Uyghur issue. It is certainly not only the Uyghur issue. The Uyghurs have the most victims in terms of the absolute number, but relatively speaking, things are just as bad for the Kazakhs, for the Kyrgyz, for the Uzbeks, for the Tatars, and a lot of these other ethnic-- for the Hui as well-- a lot of these other ethnic either Turkic or Muslim minorities who live in Xinjiang.
But strangely enough, often Uyghur activists you talk about the Uyghurs, Kazakh activists talk about the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz activists talk about the Kyrgyz, and there's not a lot of, I don't know, shout outs, let's say, in between, which I feel like that needs to change, at least symbolically. This gives a way to take testimonies from everybody. And in fact, a lot of the documentation for this has come not from Uyghurs but from Kazakhs. So about half of the data base is still Kazakhs. And so this gives a way to put everything together in one place. So [INAUDIBLE] is ethnic unity.
Another reason was to give-- get more people mobilized, give more people a way to help. Because this was a common question, and it's still a question that I hear, is-- this is horrible, what can I do about it as somebody who's completely out of the situation? And now, we currently have maybe 10 to 20 people who are working, volunteering or part-timing for this database project. And some of them maybe are only doing a few hours per month. Some of them are doing a few hours every day.
And these are people who probably would have been doing something else, maybe not even Xinjiang related, had this not come up. And so this has gotten more people involved. It's also crowdfunded. So we run purely on donations. And I think we have something like 200 donors at this point. And so again, that's 200 people who, perhaps they wouldn't know what to do otherwise, who at least have been able to help in this way. So that's another goal.
Of course, more concrete, this is another-- as Jessica said, this is another form of documentation or proof. So in addition to satellite images and in addition to the government tenders to the Chinese government's own press state releases, this is also-- testimonies are another type of evidence. It's also a very-- it has the potential to be, and I think it already is a very important analytical and investigative tool, because if you're a journalist, if you're a scholar, and you want to, say, search about factories in Xinjiang, you can download the whole database. You can search for the word "factory," and you can find the relevant testimonies and perhaps find the relevant information.
And you can also look at specific demographics. So if you want to look at young Uyghur men from [INAUDIBLE] for whatever reason, then you can also look at those specific testimonies as well and zoom in and look for things there. And the last point for why I think this is important-- and this was not here originally. This was not something I had in mind when I started this up in September.
But it's something that-- because I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know. I couldn't really call-- I wanted more people to contribute testimonies, but I couldn't say-- I couldn't tell people to do that because I didn't know-- like, will this make their relatives safer or will this make their relatives in more-- would this put their relatives in more danger? But I think as time has shown now, China is incredibly-- the Achilles heel of the current Chinese authorities seems to be bad PR.
And they react very, very badly and very, very comically when some of these cases get publicized. So sometimes you'll get people released a day after somebody goes and makes a video online and just puts it on YouTube saying, such-and-such a relative is in a camp. And the next day, they'll suddenly get news that this person has been released after not hearing from them for a year or two. And sometimes that seems like a strange coincidence, but there's dozens of such cases.
And it also allows us to be a watchdog. So if you create-- if you file a testimony for somebody, you put it in there, we now have a file. We can keep track of that case. And if, God forbid, something happens to them, if they die for example, we can also note that. We can try to publicize that. We can give that to somebody. We can give it to journalists, et cetera.
So like I said, it's a website. shahit.biz is literally "witness we," or "we are witnesses." And being a website, this is a public website, so everything is public. You can read all of these testimonies. All the names are public. All the Chinese ID numbers are public and. That's kind of the point.
And so anybody can read all the testimonies. Like I said, anybody can export them and do whatever they want with them. And anybody can submit. And this is-- it takes maybe 5 to 15 minutes. I'm going to do a demo at the end where I'm going to submit a testimony in real time, so to speak. And I strongly encourage people who-- I'm sure there are people here who have friends or relatives who are in that sort of-- in Xinjiang in some sort of detention. I strongly encourage you to write a testimony for them.
However, that being said, even though anybody can submit, the majority of the content is not just people going on the website and submitting testimonies. The majority is still this grueling work that, let's say, we do and the volunteers do, that the part-timers who work with us do, and that's parsing the internet for publicly reported cases of victims.
So that can be through video testimonies on YouTube. That can be through social media posts. That can be through media, just traditional media, and also NGO reports. So we look at everything. We find victims. We try to get their story. And we put them into textual format, and we throw them into this database. And that's over 90% of the current-- of the database right now. I would like that to change. I would like more people, of course, to go and submit directly. But for the time being, this is OK also.
So a typical testimony looks something, let's say, like this. So you have a textual component where you write all the stuff. You write who the testifier is. You write who the victim is. You write something about the detention. You write about the victim;s current status if you know it. There is also metadata component where you tag and you categorize the victim. So you give them an age category. You give them a gender category. And that's what makes it possible to do all the analytical work, the other component of this project.
Then, we are not anonymous. So if you're anonymous, you can go to Rian's, for example, database, like he explained. We are completely public. Again, that's the point. So if you want to testify, you have to put your full name of the victim. And if you can, we strongly encourage putting the Chinese ID number, because that's how you let somebody-- that's really how you can go to, say, the Chinese authorities and point a finger at a particular victim and say, where is this person right now?
And you can't really do that if you say that, well, my friend [INAUDIBLE] from Kashgar is in a camp. They'll say, well, we have 5,000 [INAUDIBLE] in Kashgar. Which one do you want? And then they can pretend that they don't know. But with a Chinese number, they can't really do that. And so then, in addition to that, there's also supplementary material, so video, audio, da-da-da.
So here, I'm just going to go and show a few examples. So the site is not very beautiful. That's also maybe kind of the point, because it's really more about functionality at this point. But this is a screenshot of one testimony. And here, again, you have the name. Here you have all the metadata. And then here you have the textual part. And then here you have any supplementary stuff, which is in this case a video.
So this is a very, let's say, bare bones testimony. There's not a lot of information in here, in fact. But they can also be quite complex. So this is an example of testimony that has a lot of info, a lot of updates, a lot of multimedia, audio interviews, pictures, certificate scans, numbers, et cetera. And so I would like to submit one and show you how it's done.
But before I do that, I want to just touch upon this issue of reliability. So it's not, at least in my opinion of course, enough to have one or two testimonies and say that these are facts. You can never say testimony is a fact. It's a type of evidence. But a testimony from one or two people is not a fact. It's just what people say. And we don't claim to do more than that. We don't claim to report facts. We just report what people write or say, period. So we don't try to extrapolate and draw things out of the testimony. So we just try to report what people say, ideally.
Of course, when you have hundreds of these, then it's up to you as a, I don't know, an informed reader to go through these and make your own conclusions about what that means. And if hundreds of people are saying that they're doing such and such, then there's probably reason to believe that they're really doing such and such.
That being said, even for individual testimonies, it's possible to corroborate some things. It is possible to build further on the things that we have in a given testimony. So here I'm going to give a very tragic and very almost outrageous example that I was personally very skeptical about but which ended up getting more corroborated and which made me a lot less skeptical.
And so this is a testimony, again, for a Kazakh, Akyl Khazizuly. So again, this is a screenshot. The original testimony came through these YouTube video interviews from his friends and relatives in Kazakhstan. And I'm going to tell you his story the way that they told it. So this is not me telling you facts. This is just me narrating what they themselves talked about.
And so he was a government appointed imam in Changji prefecture not far from Urumqi. He at one point was arrested. He was tortured. They say it was in a camp. I suspect probably it was a [INAUDIBLE] It was probably a pretrial detention center. But they say camp, so OK, we'll write camp. He was then-- he fainted, apparently, after 20 days of this. He was sent to hospital for 10 days. He was released. He was allowed to go home.
And after returning home, I think he was home for only two or three days, and they told them that he would have to go back to detention again. And so this is where the testimony gets really crazy, and this is where the skepticism should come in. His wife, in an attempt to save him from going back to detention, killed herself. So she committed suicide.
And what happened was, basically, she committed suicide. He didn't know about it. He woke up in the morning, I think on the day that he was supposed to go back to detention. He found the door of the house locked. Again, I'm just reporting what people here were saying. He found the door locked from the outside. Some neighbors helped him get out of the house. They went in the yard. They walked around, and they found her body in a methane production well of the house.
Ironically, this does not save him from detention. What happened instead was that the authorities came and they accused him of murdering his own wife and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Again, this is what his relatives said. When I first heard it, I was also a bit skeptical. This is the kind of story, it sounds so extreme that-- Xinjiang is quite bad, but it's not-- it can't be that bad everywhere.
But what's interesting is that when one of our researchers-- we have, again, his Chinese name here-- one of our researchers looked for his Chinese name or one of our part-timers looked for his Chinese name on the Chinese internet and found first an article that he himself had authored less than three weeks before detention which showed that-- it was a very pro-government article by an imam. It was the right location. It was the right name. So at first, at the very least, this proved that this person exists, that this person existed.
And then, there was another announcement from the procuratorate of how this person was arrested for murder and was now being investigated. And so suddenly, this story which at the beginning may have been very-- sounded too-- very outlandish, did not seem so outlandish anymore. And now, to take it even one step further, when all of this ends--
And I don't think it's a question of if. I think it will end. The question is when. But when it will end, you could-- and we have his address. You could go to this house, and you could look-- for example, is there a methane production well in that house? And if there is, that corroborates it even further. So this is an example of one testimony and how you can potentially build upon that with other evidence.
So now, I will finish with a demo. And so I'm actually going to submit a testimony right now for a friend of mine who was actually arrested two years ago. So again, the timeline here should be amazing. Two years have passed. Now I'm finally submitting a testimony for him. So this is somebody who was arrested two years ago. And I couldn't submit a testimony for a very long time, even after I started this project, because I simply didn't know his last name.
And that's a problem. A lot of people have this. We might have people in Xinjiang that we know, but actually, we never asked-- we never take pictures of their IDs. We don't know their last name. We just talk to them on a first-name basis. And so this person is-- he was a bookstore owner, a bookshop owner in Kashgar, which is this most Western-most town in Xinjiang and in China.
This is kind of a goofy picture of the two of us from 2015. So his name is Abduheni. He's retired. He's from Kashgar as far as I know. He was running this bookshop that sold mostly Uyghur literature after retirement, and he was running it together with his son. This is a photo from Baidu Street View of the bookshop still in 2016. And I think this is as recent as you can get with Baidu Street View in Xinjiang, is 2016. After that, there's no fresh images.
So here's a photo of some kids in his store during off-school hours. Here's his WeChat background photo. And so I found out that he had been detained, that he had been arrested in November of 2017. I came back to Kashgar in September of 2017 that year. The bookstore was closed for two months. Then suddenly it opened. I was able to talk to people who knew him better. And they told me that in April of that year, he had been arrested, sentenced to seven years in prison, and his son had been taken away as well.
His son was in a camp-- so an open camp where people could still come and occasionally visit him. But in Abduheni's case, he was in a prison, not even in Kashgar but apparently an Aksu in a closed facility. And nobody knew what was happening with him. And again, this is the retired bookshop owner.
So then, I also went-- I have his WeChat. I looked on his WeChat, and that actually corroborated it. Because then you look on his WeChat, and his posts stop in April 2017. And if you look at his last post-- if you look at his last post, people who are familiar with Uyghur literature will see this is [INAUDIBLE], so these are very popular historical novels that are banned now, of course. But I think they were already banned by 2017, but a lot of people just didn't know. I think, as somebody already mentioned, a lot of literature was banned, but people could still get it or sell it.
And so he had posted this thing where he said, I got the first editions. So the first editions of these are very, very valuable because books like these go through censorship and editing lots and lots of times, dozens of times sometimes. And these are the first editions. And so you say to yourself, this is great. They're clean. They're in good condition. It was a sort of advertisement. And this was the last thing he had posted before, I assume, he was taken away.
So again, I didn't know his last name for a very long time. I couldn't write a testimony for him. But about a week ago, a friend and I actually searched again the wonderful Chinese internet, and we found the actual bookstore in Kashgar in that location with all the-- everything matches. And we found his name. So it's actually Abduheni Abdullah. And so now I'm going to write a testimony for him.
And so I've done all the grueling work so you don't have to go through it. And so this is-- I'm just filling in the fields. I'm the testifying party. This is my testimony. I'm not submitting for anybody else. He's a friend, somebody I've known since 2014. Here I've written all his stuff, including his Chinese name. Then, location. Somebody told me that he was in-- somebody who knew the situation knew he was in a closed prison Aksu. Arrested in April 2017.
For the reason for detention, I can only speculate. But again, books were probably the reason. But again, we don't know the official reason. Victim status-- in the prison in Aksu. I hope he's still alive. We don't know. And then, how did I learn about? I learned it from somebody who knew the situation firsthand. And then some extra information. His son was also detained. And the bookstore is now closed.
So having done all that, I'll just very quickly conclude. So then, if I go now to this website-- again, so here's the website. I click on the Submit tab, which I already did, and you get this form, which I've already filled out with the content I just talked about. So you fill out all the stuff. Not all of it is mandatory, but I put in all of it.
And then, this is where you do the metadata. So age-- I don't know his exact age. Gender-- male. Ethnicity-- Uyghur. Location-- well, surprisingly not in Kashgar but in Aksu. Detention type, formal prison. Detention time, April 2017, in that period. Detention reason-- I can speculate, but I don't really know, so I'm going to leave this unclear.
Health status-- again, he had no health problems when he was detained, but of course I worry about that. But for the time being, unclear. Profession-- he had his own private business, so I will put private business. I don't have his ID number. And then, I'll just enter my contact email. This is just how-- we don't display this information, but if we want to get back to you and ask you for additional info, other stuff, this is what we do. And then, if I had any additional info, like pictures which I had here, I can then send it to this email.
So then, I submit the testimony. It says, "Testimony submitted!" then goes through. And then, it is added to the pending list with all the other pending testimonies. And this is another one. And then his should be right here. So then, when I go home, I'll log in as an admin, for example, and I'll just-- I'll check his testimony and make sure everything's fine. I'll make sure nothing's missing. And then I'll accept it, and it'll be added to this pool of-- so it will be number 3,641. So that's it. Thank you.
ZULKAYDA MAMAT: Thank you. Can I invite all the speakers to come up to the stage? Now we will have our Q&A session. Again, like last time, we only have limited time, so keep it at one question at a time. And yes, so just come to the two mics that are on both sides. Thank you. You can start.
AUDIENCE: Thank you all very much. I'd like to follow up with a question, could comment in a bit more detail on what he sees as the implications of the surveillance state and on the meaning of the accumulation of vast amounts of data, either by states or by private firms, that is happening, as we have seen in some detail here, in Western China, where all kinds of personal information has been exhaustively gathered, and an entire ethnic group, apparently, digitized, effectively.
And I think that the reaction of many of us is, well, that's just terrible, but at the same time, we are aware that Alexa and Siri are gathering-- and Google, as Rian Thum reminded us all-- that every time we get on a website, somebody is collecting that information. And it seems that reactions, in fact, can be quite varied. And some people feel comforted by the fact that information is being gathered, and they don't mind sacrificing some privacy for a greater sense of security. Others are more disturbed or made anxious by that.
It's clear there is no consensus on this. It's also clear that more and more data is being gathered on more and more people in more and more places and will be used in more and more different ways. This is something you think about all the time. I wonder if you can give us a sense-- some people are pointing to what's happening in Xinjiang as evidence of-- this is where the world is going. I wonder if you see it that way, and if so, what the implications are. Or if you don't see it that way, then is this an exception? And what are the implications of that? Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hi. My name is [INAUDIBLE] and I'm actually working here at MIT for 14 years. So I'm a scientist, biologist, originally from Almaty, Kazakhstan. But I do have my relatives back in the homeland in Xinjiang area. I don't want to call it as Xinjiang. I want to call it as East Turkistan. And then my great-grandmother's two sisters are there, and I have relatives that we happened to meet.
And then, after meeting for from so many years when Soviet Union did not allow us to meet our relatives in the homeland, and finally when we met and we got to know each other, and now we have been broken apart again. So as a scientist here, and I'm becoming an activist, I'm asking everyone who is an expert in this field, what could use advise to me and to many thousands if not millions of Uyghurs activists who have relatives in there and we lost contact? What can you advise us to do?
I want to do something to stop these atrocities. I want to actions. So I know that the US government has a bill on the floor, haven't been yet discussed or it will be this summer. And the bill nickname is Uyghur Human Act Policy Act of 2019. And we have-- up to today, we only have 28 senators have been signed this bill, and 53 congressmen.
In order to get it into the law, I need 51 senators to be co-sponsored and 418 representatives to sign the bill. And I don't know this will happen or not. I keep calling every day at least 10 senators while I'm working to co-sponsor this bill. But I don't feel that this is enough. I want to panelists tell me what else I can do to stop these atrocities. Thank you.
GENE A. BUNIN: I can take it. Is my mic still working? That's a very difficult question. It's a question that I think I've heard quite a lot of times, and not only from relatives of victims but also from people who are concerned. It's very hard to give concrete advice, and so I don't want to give you a concrete advice. But there's abstract advice that's kind of concrete, so I'll try to do that.
I think, of course, what you said with things like contacting senators and speaking up, I think that's extremely important. Obviously, I'm biased towards that stance. I think that this problem is only going to change when lots, hundreds, thousands of people start speaking up and making people realize that it's a problem, to the point where people are going to be annoyed at hearing Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz activists talking about the same thing.
But it has to be done, because otherwise, people aren't going to feel the urgency. Because especially-- this is the big tragedy, is because we-- this big paradox that's very sad. It's that the countries who have the most power to do something about this are also the countries where people are most isolated from this.
So people in the US, most people don't understand. It'd be nice to take them all, say, to Kashgar and make them feel what it's like to live there when this is happening around you, because then they would suddenly say, OK, we have to really stop this. But without having done that, it's really hard to convince them. But you can still, I think, in part-- that's the first part of my answer, is that you have to keep speaking up in whatever way or form that's appropriate.
The other one I think is the more abstract one, but sort of concrete, is you have to understand yourself better, and you have to understand what your skills are. So we all have different skill sets. Some are more introverted. Some are more extroverted. Some are better with numbers. Some are better just with making great speeches. And you have to identify what your skills are and think about what you can do.
And the thing is, what's also-- this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this is extremely, extremely scary and extremely overwhelming because it's such a big problem. It's China. It's all these reasons. But on the one hand, that's also that, because it's so big, there's so many ways that you can get in it. So there are so many angles that you can attack from. It's really--
For me, I can I can just say personally, I'm somebody who also used to be a scientist. Then I became a scientist/linguist. And I was trying to keep that up until last year where, in November, I just understood I couldn't because the more you get into this problem, the more it takes over your life. In November, I just abandoned everything to just work on this.
But I can say from personal experience, it's very easy to get involved. All you need to do is you need to get started. You need to find an in. And once you start working on it, you'll find more and more-- you'll find that you have way too many approaches. You have way too many-- there's way too many things you can do. You don't actually have enough time to do all of them because the problem is so huge. So that's another thing.
I think probably a third thing I want to say is that you also have to-- it's a mental shift. So a lot of people still feel like they're-- relatives of-- friends of victims feel like they're victims. And they feel like they're at China's mercy. And I don't think we're at China's mercy. I think China's showing again and again that it's very scared of international reactions to this.
And I think that's-- you have to make this mental transition from being a victim to being somebody who has the power, because you have the power. You can help expose everything that's happening. There's going to be a risk to your relatives always. As long as they're in Xinjiang, they're not safe. And you just have to live with that.
That's very hard to accept, of course. It's like this horrible prisoner's dilemma, this, whatever, 1,000 dimensional prisoner's dilemma, where everybody is trying to somehow think, if I act this way or if I keep quiet here, I can help my family, instead of everybody working together and taking the most optimal solution.
But it's something that you have to overcome. You have to just understand that you're not-- you're the victim, but at the same time, you do have a lot of power, and China does not want this exposed. And it's not at the stage yet where it's just going to brutally punish everybody. And you have to use that to your advantage as well. So that's my three points. I hope that helps.
ZULKAYDA MAMAT: And also, everyone should have received a paper that has a outline of a couple of nonprofit organizations that are currently focusing on this issue. And so feel free to check that out. And there's also actual campaigns that you can sign for US representatives around in our nation. So those are just immediate ways that you can get involved today.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Good afternoon. So I have some question to ask Mr. Bunin. And the first question is how to make an anonymous donation to your database product. Is there a possible the donation be stolen by Chinese hackers? And the second question is about Atajurt, which worked with you in [INAUDIBLE] has recently [INAUDIBLE] by local governments. And what's your comments? Is there any next step for you to cooperation between you and this party?
GENE A. BUNIN: Collaboration with Atajurt you said?
GENE A. BUNIN: OK. So first part is we have a GoFundMe. So you can go-- there's a link on the front page of the database where you can click on the fundraiser. It's a GoFundMe fundraiser. You can make an anonymous donation there. The question is, do you trust GoFundMe to be sufficiently secure to protect your anonymity? I cannot vouch for that. So that's-- if you trust the anonymity on GoFundMe, then OK and it's fine. But there I cannot-- if you want to personally contact me and donate via PayPal or some other means if you feel that's better, that's fine as well for the donations.
The second question, Atajurt. Just again, to give more context for people who aren't aware, it's this organization of volunteers in Kazakhstan who are originally from China who've been living in Kazakhstan and who have done an incredible amount of work over the past year, year and a half to document and expose what's happening in Xinjiang. And actually, most-- probably the better part of the documentation and the knowledge about the system, about Xinjiang, about everything that's happening there has come from them, which is quite-- it's quite an accomplishment because this is an unofficial group of volunteers that basically got together and mobilized people to speak up.
Currently, they were-- the leader was arrested 40 days ago. He was taken. He is currently still under house arrest. And they're currently-- they've reopened a couple of weeks back. They're working again, technically. They have a YouTube channel. People can come in their office. People can testify. People can record testimonies. They still do that. It's not the same momentum as before. Personally, I will probably come back there, and I will remain there until something-- it resolves somehow, or at least there's some sort of conclusion to it. But hopefully, it gets going again. We'll see. It's hard because currently there's a lot of-- from what I heard, there's a lot of Chinese pressure.
So Kazakhstan-- another thing that's very amazing is that so much information has come out of Kazakhstan despite Kazakhstan being extremely-- the government being extremely, let's say, pro-China. And recently, there's supposedly been a lot of pressure on the activists from Atajurt and on relatives of-- on their relatives back in Xinjiang, and also on just people who have shown support for Atajurt or talked to Atajurt. They've also received a lot of pressure to their relatives in Xinjiang recently, based on what I've heard.
And so a lot of people have also stopped talking because of that. And that's the Chinese soft power abroad and Chinese hard power back in Xinjiang working together. And that's disheartening, but I think-- it's hard to say for now, but we'll see. We don't know.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
GENE A. BUNIN: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Hi. My name is Elden, I was just wondering, on regard of how recent-- or not how recent, but how quickly these camps are accelerating, the growth of how fast they're being built, I was wondering if there were any future ideas of [INAUDIBLE] just proportions of how large these camps could grow, how widespread they could be, how many people, more potential, what population of the Uyghur, just anyone in the Xinjiang region, how many people they could hold, or just a general consensus of how fast they could grow, how much longer, and just all that in general?
ZULKAYDA MAMAT: And I also want to just add, one of our webcast questions that came in was also about this question in the sense that they were asking, what is the final solution? So any comments on that?
JESSICA BATKE: It's a really good question. And I would say, as Rian stated in the first panel, we don't actually know exactly where they're planning on taking this. I don't think-- people can correct me if I'm wrong-- I don't think they're building it the same pace that they were maybe two years ago. I think a larger question now is, once you have this set of people which you have detained, what happens to them now? Do you hold them into perpetuity? Do you force them into factories where they're laboring for you and you can essentially keep an eye on them?
Because essentially what's happening is they're creating an entire generation, several generations, of traumatized citizens. And what do you do with those people? Because even the people that haven't been through the camps are also traumatized in a very specific way. You're traumatizing an entire society. And so regardless of the absolute number that are actually going to be held at any point-- and I'm not minimizing the importance of that-- I think it's also important to focus on the impact on the society as a whole.
This is affecting everyone that lives there. Everybody knows somebody that's been held, even if they haven't been held themselves. And so I don't want to speculate too much on what I think they're actually aiming to do. And I think a point that was said earlier is I think really important, which is once you have these facilities, they beg to get used. And whether that's in the way they were originally intended or in a different way, you don't know.
But you end up creating a self-licking ice cream cone, basically. You have a bunch of people that are in the security forces, and they want their jobs to be perpetuated. You need to continue to generate reasons to get money to get paid. And so I don't know ultimately what shape this takes, but it is very, very hard to undo a massive security apparatus that we're seeing, I would say. So I know that's not a complete and satisfying answer, but I hope it fleshes out a bit. Yeah.
GENE A. BUNIN: Yes, I can add I'm not so-- I guess I would say I'm fairly optimistic. I don't think they're going to expand and build even more of these camps, in part because I think it's actually-- my feeling is that this was a very big surprise for the Chinese authorities. They didn't think that there was going to be such a strong reaction to what they were doing. They probably thought that, we're going to do this. Some people will protest. Some human rights organization will say something. We'll find a way to wash it away, and then we'll just go on and do what we want to do.
But I don't think they were expecting this. And this is-- you see it, I feel-- at least I get the impression recently that there's a lot of bipolar reports coming out of Xinjiang, where some people-- you have reports where Shohrat Zakir, who is the head of the Xinjiang whatever-whatever, he's saying that less people are going to be put through these camps in the future. On the other hand, you have these very nationalistic reports that say, the Western media and Western governments aren't going to influence how we do things in Xinjiang.
And so it's almost like things are-- and you also hear very different reports in the sense that recently there's been more, again-- and here I can't cite concrete cases. I can cite rumors or things that I've heard from people there that there's been more information that people with relatives abroad, for example, are being released or being better treated. And so there's obviously-- that's happening. But the same time, you hear about more crackdowns. And it's almost like there's a sort of chaos.
You get these rumors that people are now being released and sent home during the daytime from the camps with GPS bracelets. Because apparently the camps are running out of money. So you hear that as well. And my impression is that they're not going to expand that, maybe for financial reasons. I don't know. Here I'm probably not qualified to say much. But at least for PR reasons. Again, I don't think they're going to expand the system so significantly because the world is watching now.
But in terms of what's going to happen, the final solution, maybe-- for me, it seems natural that they would try to go with the way that they went with the Cultural Revolution when they had people in labor camps. And then, when they finished their sentences in the labor camps, that were released to what's called [INAUDIBLE] which is-- its forced job placement, which is basically what we're seeing with these factories. Because it's a way to transition these people who have been traumatized in the camps back into productive members of society.
And I think that's probably another plan, is they want to throw them back into the system. They want to find ways to make them productive. But I honestly don't know if that will work because there's quite a lot of-- regardless of what they say and what they report, it's very clear that a lot of people are coming out of these camps either more radicalized or people who weren't radicalized before are actually coming out radicalized and actually saying things like, I'm going to blow myself up. This has been-- this is something I've heard.
And there are people-- or there are people that are coming out suicidal. There are people that are coming out with extreme PTSD or mental problems or health problems. And this is going to be-- this is a bomb. This is a ticking time bomb. And I don't know. It's really hard to predict what's going to happen. In terms of building, I don't think they're going to build more, but at this point, it's a bit chaotic, I think. And I think they themselves aren't in full agreement with what they should do. So yeah, it's hard to say.