Beyond Orwell’s Worst Nightmares: How China Uses Artificial Intelligence to Commit Genocide
Zarina Zabrisky translates the horrifying Russian reports from China of state surveillance, cruelty and murder of its minorities.
Since 2017, the Chinese Government has carried out the systematic genocide of millions of innocent ethnic minorities by imprisoning, killing, torturing and subjecting them to chemical experiments, writes Zarina Zabrisky. According to some researchers, there are about one-and-a-half million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other minorities in prisons and concentration camps.
In a monstrous twist, the Chinese authorities have added cutting-edge software programmes – “neural networks” – and biometric data to the extermination techniques pioneered by totalitarian states of the past.
What you are about to read – an essay called The Clockwork Mandarin by Konstantin Salomatin and Shura Burtin – is not sci-fi: it is the reality of a communist society in which an individual is sacrificed in the name of the collective and human life has no value.
NEURAL NETWORKS SURVEILLANCE IN XINJIANG
In Xinjiang, Chinese authorities use mass DNA collection and facial recognition cameras to monitor ethnic minorities – mainly Uyghurs and Kazakhs.
It is total surveillance. Every conversation is recorded. Streets are patrolled by police vans. Barbed wire is everywhere: schools, kindergartens, hospitals, and gas stations. Every 300 metres there is a checkpoint – a concrete booth, more barbed wire, police, military – and long lines of Uyghurs.
To enter public facilities – such as hospitals, banks, parks, or shopping malls, or to refuel their cars – Uyghurs and Kazakhs must pass a metal detector and two checkpoints, operated by artificial intelligence called IJOP.
The “neural network” was created by the People’s Liberation Army of China as part of its new digital military doctrine, C4ISR, and is now part of the National Vigilance programme, which plans to cover China with a tracking technology network.
From 2017, all Muslims aged 12 to 65 are required to undergo comprehensive biometric and DNA tests, including having photographs taken of their face and body from several angles, blood tests, fingerprints, eye retina scans, hair samples and voice recordings.
At each checkpoint, the artificial intelligence takes 3D photos, scans IDs and belongings, and, based on all the combined data, either allows the person to pass or alerts and instructs the police on the course of action: interrogation, detention for further investigation, or an immediate arrest.
There is no presumption of innocence. A 100-point scale is applied to define the degree of threat. Uyghurs and Kazakhs automatically receive 10 points; people in the age range 15 to 55 receive another 10; believers another 10.
TOTAL SURVEILLANCE: NO PRIVACY AT HOME
Kazakh and Uyghur people residing in Xinjiang are often forbidden to leave the assigned areas and cannot visit Kazakhstan, one of the 27 countries on the list of Muslim countries banned to visit.
They are forced to reside at the place of “registration” and their passports are confiscated. In order to leave the residential block assigned as their place of residence, they must interact with a special device connected to the government software, IJOP.
There is no privacy or safety at home either. Video cameras connected to IJOP are installed inside the apartments as well as in the streets. These cameras are equipped with facial recognition software able to identify Uyghurs and track and report any “unusual” behaviour – for instance, a gathering of a few Uyghurs at a place where only one is registered.
According to the official data, China will use 626 million monitoring cameras in 2020.
All information gathered by the cameras is analysed by IJOP. In addition, the police frequently conduct late night searches, checking phones, computers and books. Print materials in the Uyghur language are banned, as are beards, national dress and the use of Muslim names.
About one million Chinese civil servants from other regions reside with Uyghur families in their homes for up to six months, completing daily reports via online forms.
All Muslim residents are required to install and use a surveillance phone app called Jingwang, which scans and reports the user’s activity – contacts, reading, writing, geolocation – to IJOP.
Using a mobile phone without the app, turning it off or using another person’s phone is prohibited.
The app has a list of 36 suspicious activities, including owning too many books or excess food supplies, or using more electricity than standard. The policemen are overloaded with work, but if they fail to use the app they can, in turn, be reported and sent to camps.
PROFILING AND ENFORCEMENT
The neural network combines all the data received from various resources – mobile phone apps, police apps, cameras, checkpoints, police reports – and creates multi-dimensional profiles that combine biometric and medical data (including fertility, mental health and chronic conditions), family connections, work and study notes and financial history.
Every morning, IJOP sends messages to police stations reporting all prohibited or dangerous activities in the area, along with further instructions for punitive actions.
Systematically and efficiently, the Chinese Government is erasing the cultural identity of the Uyghur people. Xinjiang lives in fear. The shops and restaurants owned by Uyghurs are mostly closed. The remaining establishments have locked doors and iron bars on the windows. 10% of the adult population is missing.
“He went to study” has become the code phrase for “he is in prison”. Children of those arrested cannot live with relatives and are taken to orphanages instead.
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“RE-EDUCATION” CAMPS AND PRISONS
According to survivors’ stories, collected by journalists and human rights activists in Kazakhstan and other countries, following arrest, people are put in basements or other spaces with no natural light, in rooms divided into small cages, equipped with only stools and overhead lights, with electric lights on around the clock.
A typical cell is about 10 meters long and very narrow, with 18 people per room and two people per bed. Inmates are allowed to sleep in two-hour intervals, followed by two hours of “on duty” shifts during which they are required to sit on plastic chairs.
In the afternoon, they are required to sit for 12 to 14 hours without moving.
During the interrogations that may last for hours, sometimes days, inmates are chained to a table in uncomfortable positions and not allowed to sleep. In cells, it is prohibited to talk, laugh, cry or turn to other prisoners. There are four cameras in each cell, in each corner, and in every toilet and corridor. The cameras are constantly monitoring the inmates and, if rules are violated, the loudspeakers announce the violator by number (names are not used).
However, there are “blind zones” not covered by monitors and prison guards often use such spots to sexually abuse young female inmates.
A minimum prison sentence is three years, but inmates are usually incarcerated for 10, 15 or 20 years. These sentences are kept secret and cannot be obtained by an official request. A camp sentence is usually one-and-a-half to two years.
There are hundreds of prisons and camps in Xinjiang and each one uses a variety of torture techniques.
Punishment for violations may include electric shocks, forced abortions, solitary confinement, food deprivation for an extended amount of time, being beaten with iron bars, shackled for days, months and years, being put in a cage that allows only a sitting position, being chained to the floor in an uncomfortable position, drowned in a tub, tied to the wall by arms so the inmate is only able to stand on tiptoes, hung on the rack, or held with black bags on the head.
All survivors report having forced injections called “vaccinations”. In the camps, injections are given for any violation. There are reports that these lead to involuntary erections in males and chemically-induced orgies recorded by the cameras.
Multiple prisoners die from beatings and torture. Their relatives are informed that they died from an illness.
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According to multiple reports, there could be up to 10,000 people in a single camp. Only the Khorgaz district has three such camps.
The inmates are forced to learn Mandarin and watch documentaries about the Chinese communists. They are required to publicly renounce their own people, praise the Communist Party and Chinese law, admit such faults as wearing a hijab, praying, reading the Qur’an, giving their children Muslim names, and repeat slogans thanking the party and China’s President Xi Jinping before meals, sometimes up to a thousand times.
The majority of the people in the camps are peasants. Their crime is not speaking the Mandarin language.
Another group includes violators of the rules: those who fail to install required apps or leave their residential block without permission, for example.
Crimes might include using banned apps such as Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram, VPN, having foreign numbers as contacts, having photos of female relatives in hijabs, visiting banned websites, saying a prayer at a funeral, owning the Qur’an or a quote from it, a prayer rug, Islamic clothes.
The third group is practising Muslims, who are sentenced to 10 to 15 years, and up to 30 years of a strict regime, with imams receiving the longest sentences.
The conditions vary but are invariably inhumane.
Food lacks protein and fats and has a strong medical taste. A meal could be a piece of rice dough and a bottle of water and last only five minutes so finishing the portion is impossible. Toilet use is limited, with group visits, and only two minutes allowed for urinating and three minutes for defecation. Running overtime is punished by the pouring of cold water or beating with electro-shockers.
Survivors suffer from memory loss and amnesia, chronic insomnia, panic attacks, headaches and pain in their kidneys.
Practically all male survivors suffer from impotence and females report the loss of libido, possibly as the result of the injections (chemical castration).
Talking about camp experiences is strictly prohibited. On release, the former inmates have to sign a document promising to never talk about the camps or meet with journalists and human rights activists, or criticise the Chinese Government. They are threatened with punishment in case of violations.
People who manage to emigrate live in fear and do not share any information or photos on social media.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The Chinese Government, following the Communist tradition and the trends set by Lenin and Stalin, is infamous for its disregard of human rights but sensitive to the global community’s reaction.
The reason for this is not pure vanity. Chinese leaders aspire to build roads and establish trade with Europe and Africa. By imposing economic sanctions, boycotting events in China and preventing China from participating in international sports and cultural events such as the Olympic Games, the world’s governments can apply pressure.
Private citizens can help by sharing information and flooding the internet with the facts, demanding that their country’s leaders take action to stop these crimes.
The only way to stop genocide is to expose it.
From ‘The Clockwork Mandarin‘ by Konstantin Salomatin and Shura Burtin, first published in the Russian Reporter.