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Here Are 48 Reasons Chinese Authorities Are Imprisoning Muslim Minorities

Owning a tent, growing a beard, and abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes are all treated with serious suspicion in certain parts of China.
May 2, 2019, 2:54am
A jail cell
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This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

So it turns out that abstaining from alcohol or eating breakfast before dawn is enough to get you thrown into a concentration camp in China. In the country’s western Xinjiang province, as part of a broad system of surveillance against the region’s 12 million Uyghur and Kazakh citizens, Chinese officials and security personnel are looking for certain “suspicious” activities as a way to identify people with extremist tendencies. Other red flags include owning a tent, telling people not to swear, and acting sad when your parents die. And engaging in any of these behaviours could see you being detained without trial and locked away in a political education camp indefinitely, according to a Foreign Policy report.


The total list of “Forty-Eight Suspicious Signs of Extremist Tendencies”—compiled by analyst Tanner Greer and later published in the Australian National University’s 2018 China Story Yearbook—is based on interviews that Human Rights Watch researchers conducted with 58 ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs, all of whom successfully fled from Xinjiang at some point over the last three years. In 2014, the Communist Party of China launched what it called the “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism”: a state-sanctioned attempt to combat religious extremism by effectively punishing and controlling Muslim Uyghurs based on their faith. The United Nations estimates that between one and two million members of China’s Uyghur ethnic minority have disappeared during that period—thought to be imprisoned in concentration camps for the purposes of re-education and indoctrination.

Gerry Groot, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Adelaide and a co-author of ANU’s 2018 China Story Yearbook, explains that the “forty-eight signs of extremist tendencies” are used as guidelines for identifying and weeding out potential religious extremists.

“The ‘random signs’ are all possible indications of deeper religiosity, which is in turn taken as indicating higher potential for susceptibility to so-called religious extremism,” he told VICE over email. And while many of the behaviours on the list may seem vague, arbitrary, or generally innocuous, Gerry suggests that Chinese authorities prefer to err on the side of caution than to let potential extremists slip through the cracks.


“A precautionary principle often comes into play,” he said, “because police and others are unlikely to get into trouble for being heavy-handed, but they will be punished if anyone they deal with is subsequently seen by others as a potential or actual so-called extremist.”

Each of the interviewees HRW spoke to cited at least one of the behaviours on the list as something they avoided for fear of drawing undue attention to themselves and being sent to an education camp. As Tanner Greer notes, though, only a certain number of the 48 activities could be reasonably connected to acts of terrorism. The rest, he suggests, are used as ways to clamp down on religious practice in general—growing a full beard, for example, or fasting—however harmless those practices may seem.

“The goal of the Strike Hard Campaign is not, as China claims, purely to destroy terrorists but to destroy minority religion and identity altogether,” Tanner speculated. “It has created an atmosphere of constant fear, in which Uyghurs dread the invisible lines placed around every aspect of their lives.”

The full list of suspicious activities is as follows:

  • Owning a tent
  • Telling others not to swear
  • Speaking with someone who has travelled abroad
  • Owning welding equipment
  • Telling others not to sin
  • Owning extra food
  • Eating breakfast before the sun comes up
  • Merely knowing someone who has travelled abroad
  • Owning a compass
  • Arguing with an official
  • Publicly stating that China is inferior to some other country
  • Owning multiple knives
  • Sending a petition that complains about local officials
  • Having too many children
  • Abstaining from alcohol
  • Not allowing officials to sleep in your bed, eat your food, and live in your house
  • Having a VPN
  • Abstaining from cigarettes
  • Not having your government ID on your person
  • Having WhatsApp
  • Wailing, publicly grieving, or otherwise acting sad when your parents die
  • Not letting officials take your DNA
  • Watching a video filmed abroad
  • Wearing a scarf in the presence of the Chinese flag
  • Wearing a hijab (if you are under 45)
  • Going to a mosque
  • Praying
  • Fasting
  • Listening to a religious lecture
  • Not letting officials scan your irises
  • Not letting officials download everything you have on your phone
  • Not making voice recordings to give to officials
  • Speaking your native language in school
  • Speaking your native language in government work groups
  • Speaking with someone abroad (via Skype, WeChat, etc.)
  • Wearing a shirt with Arabic lettered writing on it
  • Having a full beard
  • Wearing any clothes with religious iconography
  • Not attending mandatory propaganda classes
  • Not attending mandatory flag-raising ceremonies
  • Not attending public struggle sessions (the public humiliation of political rivals)
  • Refusing to denounce your family members or yourself in these public struggle sessions
  • Trying to kill yourself when detained by the police
  • Trying to kill yourself when in the education camps
  • Performing a traditional funeral
  • Inviting multiple families to your house without registering with the police department
  • Being related to anyone who has done any of the above

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