For decades, the Uighur imam was a bedrock of his farming community in China’s far west. On Fridays, he preached Islam as a religion of peace. On Sundays, he treated the sick with free herbal medicine. In the winter, he bought coal for the poor. But as a Chinese government mass detention campaign engulfed Memtimin Emer’s native Xinjiang region three years ago, the elderly Imam was swept up and locked away, along with all three of his sons living in China.
Now, a newly revealed database exposes in extraordinary detail the main reasons for the detentions of Emer, his three sons, and hundreds of others in Karakax County: their religion and their family ties.
The database obtained by The Associated Press profiles the internment of 311 individuals with relatives abroad and lists information on more than 2,000 of their relatives, neighbours and friends. Each entry includes the detainee’s name, address, national identity number, detention date and location, along with a detailed dossier on their family, religious and neighbourhood background, the reason for detention, and a decision on whether or not to release them. Issued within the past year, the documents do not indicate which government department compiled them or for whom.
Taken as a whole, the information offers the fullest and most personal view yet into how Chinese officials decided who to put into and let out of detention camps, as part of a massive crackdown that has locked away more than a million ethnic minorities, most of them Muslims.