Leaked Karakax List Exposes “System of Targeted Cultural Genocide” in Xinjiang

An ongoing mass detention campaign in Xinjiang, itself part of a longer-running crackdown aimed squarely at mitigating elements of local Uyghur culture and religiosity, has detained as many as two million Muslim ethnic minority members in Xinjiang since 2017. While authorities claim that these camps are simply “vocational training” facilities, there has been evidence of forced laborpolitical indoctrination, abuse, and deaths inside the camps relayed from former detainees and staff. A newly publicized leaked database known as the “Karakax list” (named after the southwestern Xinjiang county where it was compiled) provides insight into the administrative and ideological underpinnings of the system of camps, the extent of the surveillance used to gather information on Xinjiang residents, and also provides examples of the “problematic behavior” that have led to detention. The 137-page list, which has been leaked to journalists after circulating among activists and overseas Uyghurs, includes religious and political data on over 300 detainees from Karakax, information on their family members and acquaintances, and the ostensible reason for their detention. Common examples include behaviors relevant to Muslim practice–suggesting that religiosity is a major determining factor for detention, and countering authorities’ insistence that the camps’ purpose is primarily educational. At The New York Times, Austin Ramzy provides an overview of the leak:

[…] Even children as young as 16 were closely monitored for signs of what Beijing considered to be wayward thinking.

[…] “This document is by far the most detailed that we have,” said Mr. [Adrian] Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington. “It allows us to dissect the anatomy of both the internment drive and what the government now is now doing with these people.”

Mr. Zenz said he was confident that the document was legitimate for a number of reasons. He said he had matched the identities of 337 listed detainees, relatives and neighbors with other government documents, spreadsheets and a leaked database from SenseNets, a Chinese surveillance company, that included GPS coordinates along with names, identification numbers, addresses and photos.

[…] Officials claim that the camps are to curb extremism by providing skills and language instruction, b]ut the Karakax spreadsheet shows how officials have monitored minute details of daily life to find targets for detention as Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party boss in Xinjiang, ordered officials to “round up everyone who should be rounded up.”

The authorities scrutinized three generations of each detainee’s family, as well as their neighbors and friends. Officials in charge of monitoring mosques reported on how actively the residents participated in ceremonies, including the naming of children, circumcision, weddings and funerals. […] [Source]

The Karakax list is the third major collection of leaked information offering insight into the evolution and implementation of the detention program, following The New York Times’ November 2019 publication of a report based on 403 leaked pages of leaked official documents, and a collection of documents acquired by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that same month. Adrian Zenz, the Xinjiang expert who first provided substantive evidence of the existence of the internment camps and has provided continuous analysis on the topic, has also published on leaked information acquired through his research, and has declared a goal of “decisively refuting” CCP claims that the camps are benign educational institutions. In the intro to an extensive “dissection of the anatomy” of Beijing’s internment drive in Xinjiang published this week at the Journal of Political Risk, Zenz further highlights the significance of the newest leak:

Specifically, the Karakax List outlines the reasons why 311 persons were interned and reveals the cognition behind the decision-making processes as to whether individuals can be released or not. Based on the principles of presumed guilt (rather than innocence) and assigning guilt through association, the state has developed a highly fine-tuned yet also very labor-intensive governance system whereby entire family circles are held hostage to their behavioral performance – jointly and as individuals. Ongoing mechanisms of appraisal and evaluation ensure high levels of acquiescence even when most detainees have been released from the camps.

The detailed new information provided by this document also allows us to develop a more fine-grained understanding of the ideological and administrative processes that preceded the internment campaign. In particular, this research paper carefully reviews the sequence and timing of events during Chen Quanguo’s first seven months in the region. It is argued that Chen must have been installed by the central government, possibly during a meeting at the Two Sessions in Beijing in March 2016 where Xi Jinping, Chen, and Chen’s predecessor in Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian, were all in the same place. It is argued that Chen’s role in Xinjiang has not so much been that of an innovator as it has been that of a highly driven and disciplined administrator, with a focus on drastically upscaling existing mechanisms of investigation, categorization and internment.

More than any other government document pertaining to Beijing’s extralegal campaign of mass internment, the Karakax List lays bare the ideological and administrative micromechanics of a system of targeted cultural genocide that arguably rivals any similar attempt in the history of humanity. Driven by a deeply religio-phobic worldview, Beijing has embarked on a project that, ideologically, isn’t far from a medieval witch-hunt, yet is being executed with administrative perfectionism and iron discipline. Being distrustful of the true intentions of its minority citizens, the state has established a system of governance that fully substitutes trust with control. That, however, is also set to become its greatest long-term liability. Xinjiang’s mechanisms of governance are both labor-intensive and predicated upon highly unequal power structures that often run along and increase ethnic fault lines. The long-term ramifications of this arrangement for social stability and ethnic relations are impossible to predict. […] [Source]

Read Zenz’ full paper for in-depth analysis of the list and explanation of its authentication.

Citing contribution from the AP, The Guardian has more on the data contained in the list, providing examples of the reasons listed for internment:

On the database, detainees and their families are tracked and classified by rigid, well-defined categories. Households are designated as “trustworthy” or “not trustworthy,” and their attitudes are graded as “ordinary” or “good”. Families have “light” or “heavy” religious “atmospheres”, and the document keeps count of how many relatives of each detainee are in prison or have been sent to a “training centre”.

Officials used these categories to determine how suspicious a person was, even if they had not committed any crimes.

Other reasons listed for internment include “minor religious infection”, “disturbs other persons by visiting them without reasons”, “relatives abroad”, “thinking is hard to grasp” and “untrustworthy person born in a certain decade”. The last seems to refer to younger men, according to an analysis of the data by Adrian Zenz, an expert on the detention centres who compiled a report on the Karakax list.

[…] The most recent date in the document is March 2019. The detainees listed come from Karakax County, a traditional settlement of about 650,000 people where more than 97% of the population are Uighur. The list was corroborated through interviews with former Karakax residents, Chinese identity verification tools, and other lists and documents seen by the Associated Press.

[…] It showed that Karakax officials also explicitly targeted people for activities that included going abroad, getting a passport, installing foreign software or clicking on a link to a foreign website. [Source]

Reporting from Deutsche Welle shows how the detailed information contained in the list can be used to profile a detainee:

In May 2017, a Uighur man was taken away to a “re-education camp” in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. As an observant Muslim, the man prayed at home after meals, and sometimes attended Friday prayers at his local mosque. The reasons for his forced internment: His wife had covered her face with a veil and the couple had “too many” children. There was never a trial.

According to a newly leaked document from Xinjiang, the man underwent a “great ideological transformation” in the camp and “realized his mistakes and showed good repentance.” The family’s four boys and two girls back at home all demonstrated “good behavior.”

In June 2017, however, their mother was sent to prison for six years. She was charged with participating in an “illegal religious activity.”

This family’s story is similar to hundreds of cases, which are listed in unprecedented detail. [Source]

An interactive visual report from CNN relays the new findings from the Karakax list, and tells the stories of overseas Uyghurs who came across the list after years without contact with their family in Xinjiang, and of some of those who passed the leaked material to journalists. Ivan Watson and Ben Westcott report:

Rozinsa Mamattohti couldn’t sleep or eat for days after she read the detailed records the Chinese government had been keeping on her entire family.

[…] For Mamattohti’s sister, 34-year-old Patem, the crime for which she was detained, according to the document, was a “violation of family planning policy,” or put simply, having too many children. Under the countrywide policy, which rarely if ever is cause for imprisonment, rural families in Xinjiang are limited to three children. Patem had four.

It was the first time since 2016 that Mamattohti had received any concrete news of what had happened to her family.

“I never imagined that my younger sister would be in prison,” Mamattohti told CNN, through tears, in her house in Istanbul. She said she first saw the leaked records when they were informally circulated on social media among Uyghurs overseas. “As I was reading their names I couldn’t hold myself together, I was devastated.”

[…] [Netherlands-based Uyghur hip-hop artist Tahirjan] Anwar won’t reveal the source of this new document, only saying that they were taken out of China and passed to exiled Uyghur activists. He said if his source’s identity is made public “that person will die.”

Anwar passed on the leaked material to another Uyghur exile in the Netherlands, writer Asiye Abdulahad, in the hope she’d know how to spread the word. Between them, Anwar and Abdulahad have been responsible for disseminating two of the Chinese government’s most embarrassing internal leaks in decades. They say neither of them was involved in an earlier leak of internal Chinese government documents to the New York Times.

Quietly-spoken writer Abdulahad isn’t a member of any formal Uyghur organization, but when the document appeared in her inbox, she knew she had to act. […] [Source]

BBC News puts the new details from the list into the context of their continued coverage of the situation in Xinjiang:


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