Demolishing Faith: China sharpens hacking to hound minorities, home and abroad

October 22, 2019

China’s hackers have since built up a new arsenal of techniques, such as elaborate hacks of iPhone and Android software, pushing them beyond email attacks and the other, more basic tactics that they had previously employed, the New York Times reports:

The primary targets for these more sophisticated attacks: China’s ethnic minorities and their diaspora in other countries, the researchers said….Google researchers said they had discovered that iPhone vulnerabilities were being exploited to infect visitors to a set of websites. Although Google did not release the names of the targets, Apple said they had been found on about a dozen websites focused on Uighurs….The technology news site TechCrunch first reported the Uighur connection.

Because the hacks targeted Android and iPhone users — even though Uighurs in Xinjiang don’t commonly use iPhones — they had been aimed in part at Uighurs living abroad, said Steven Adair, the president and founder of the security firm Volexity in Virginia.

Sitting in a hearing room in Congress, in a gray plaid hijab, her dark blond hair poking out, Mihrigul Tursun begins to cry. She is there to share the plight of her fellow Uighurs in Xinjiang, notes Elizabeth M. Lynch, founder and editor of China Law & Policy. Her translator reads aloud Tursun’s prepared statement about her three separate detentions by the Chinese government in Xinjiang’s internment camps, she writes for the Washington Post:

As the translator recounts Tursun’s first detention — upon her release, she learned that one of her 4-month-old triplets had died — Tursun struggles to hold back tears. But when the translator recounts the torture — little food, a tiger chair, electric shock treatment and a liquid that stopped her menstrual cycle and likely resulted in her sterilization, which has been confirmed by U.S. doctors — Tursun can’t hold back any longer. She starts to sob.

A police chief in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has been detained for expressing concerns over the mass detention, and possible deaths, of fellow Uyghurs in internment camps in his township, according to sources from the area, RFA reports.

Cotton Gulag

Products made by the forced labor of Chinese Muslims detained in “reeducation” camps in its Xinjiang region could be making their way to the US and other countries. The concern isn’t just hypothetical, Quartz’s  Marc Bain reports:

On Oct. 1, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it had halted garments produced by China’s Hetian Taida Apparel from entering the US over concerns they were made with prisoner or forced labor. The AP reported the shipments appear to have been baby pajamas bound for Costco. (Costco says it believes the pajamas were made in a different factory than the one from the CBP detention order.) The same company was shipping clothes to a big supplier of US college bookstores and sports teams from an internment camp in Xinjiang, according to AP investigation last year.

Xinjiang is also where most of China’s cotton is grown—between 74% and 84%, depending on the estimate, Quartz adds. The Uyghur Human Rights Project, a US-based group that advocates for Uyghur rights in China, describes the region as a “cotton gulag” where prison labor is present in all steps of the cotton supply chain.

The ongoing crackdown by the Xi administration in the  region has been described as an effort to “re-engineer” the Uyghur identity and as a form of “cultural genocide,” notes China Digital Times:

Meanwhile, across the Himalayas, a violent crackdown on the Muslim-majority region of Indian Kashmirjustified by the Modi government on economic grounds, and criticized by rights groups as an attack on Islam amid rising Hindu nationalism—began last month. At The Nation Nithin Coca identifies similarities in the two campaigns, including the two regions’ similar status as “de facto modern colonies,” rising nationalism, the focus on Islam, and the use of Chinese technology.

In the brutal campaign to eradicate the Uyghur identity, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has targeted the Uyghurs’ practice of Islam. A new research report prepared by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), a National Endowment for Democracy (NED) grantee, lays out clear and convincing evidence of the CCP’s desecration and destruction of Uyghur holy spaces as part of a multipronged strategy to erase the Uyghur identity, history, religion, and culture.

Mosques have long played a vital role in community life and generational memory; in destroying the mosques, the CCP is obliterating those vital connections, and unmooring the Uyghur people from their shared history. Relying on photographs, satellite imagery, and the testimony of local residents, the report details the destruction of mosques and religious sites throughout Uyghur communities across China.

Mr. Bahram Sintash, the report’s primary researcher, will discuss his findings and their implications for the Uyghur population. He will be joined by Mr. Alim Seytoff, Dr. Elise Anderson, and Mr. Omer Kanat for an in-depth discussion about religious persecution in East Turkistan, the impact it has already had on the Uyghur community inside China and the greater Uyghur diaspora, and how the destruction of holy sites fits more broadly in the CCP’s effort to eradicate Uyghur identity.

The National Endowment for Democracy and The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) cordially invite you to the launch of a new UHRP report: “Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques and Shrines” RSVP

Tuesday, October 29. 9:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m.

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, DC 20004

Speaker Biographies

Alim Seytoff is the Director of Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service. Mr. Seytoff has a master’s degree in Public Policy from the Robertson School of Government at Regent University. He has testified several times before the U.S. Congress and has briefed both White House and State Department officials on China’s human rights violations of the Uyghur people.  He received his Juris Doctor degree from Regent University School of Law in 2006, and is a licensed attorney.

Bahram Sintash is UHRP’s research partner for the report. Sintash earned a degree in art and design, and studied media and journalism. He has published research on Uyghur architectural history. In 2018, he founded the Uyghurism.com website, devoted to preserving Uyghur culture for the next generation, including archives of the popular Uyghur cultural journal, Xinjiang Civilization. His father, the distinguished scholar, Qurban Mamut, formerly editor-in-chief of the magazine, has been detained in a Chinese internment camp since 2017.

Elise Anderson, Ph.D., recently served as a 2019 Liu Xiaobo Fellow at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. She is a specialist in Uyghur folklore and culture, and the politics of China and Central Asia. Dr. Anderson holds with dual Ph.D. degrees in Central Eurasian Studies and Ethnomusicology from Indiana University-Bloomington. Her research explores the music and other arts of the Uyghurs. She has published extensively on Uyghur culture and identity.

Omer Kanat is the Director and co-founder of the UHRP.  Mr. Kanat has two decades of experience as a broadcast journalist. From 1999 to 2009 Mr. Kanat was Senior Editor at Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service. He also served as Senior Editor at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service. He has served as Vice President of the World Uyghur Congress since 2006 and Chairman of the WUC Executive Committee since 2017. He has extensive experience briefing government officials and human rights organizations on the Uyghur crisis and speaking at high-level events focused on human rights and religious freedom. He holds a B.A. in History from Istanbul University’s Faculty of Science and Literature, with a focus on political history.

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