China is tracking members of its Uighur ethnic minority by installing scannable QR codes on their front doors, according to a new report.
Beijing has been coming under increasing international scrutiny over its treatment of the Uighurs, a majority-Muslim Turkic population living in the western region of Xinjiang.
Over the past year China has installed 40,000 facial-recognition cameras across the region, forced Uighurs to download an app that monitors their cellphone activity, and built databases of DNA samples and fingerprints to keep track of people.
The surveillance measures don’t stop there.
Officials in some localities have started putting QR codes — a type of two-dimensional barcode — containing Uighurs’ personal information next to their front doors, Human Rights Watch reported on Monday.
A Uighur who left Xinjiang in 2017, identified by the pseudonym Nurmuhemmet, told Human Rights Watch earlier this year: “Every … home, where one enters, there’s a QR code. Then every two days or every day, the cadres come and scan the QR code, so they know how many people live here.”
Beijing justifies its surveillance and crackdown in Xinjiang as preventing terrorism, and has repeatedly accused militant Uighurs of starting terrorist attacks across the country since at least the mid-1990s.
Over the past few years, Chinese authorities have also forced Xinjiang residents to put QR codes on household tools that could be used as weapons.
These include kitchen knives and craft knives, and the codes link to the owners’ ID card numbers, Human Rights Watch said.
By scanning the code, authorities can immediately see residents’ identities, contact information, and how many potentially dangerous tools they own, according to a news report from the city of Korla, Xinjiang, which HRW cited.
The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Chin reported last December that a knife salesman in Aksu, a city in northwest Xinjiang, had to install a machine to turn a customer’s ID card number, photo, ethnicity, and home address into a QR code.
The code then had to be lasered onto the blade of any knife he sold.
China is accused of imprisoning up to 1 million Uighurs, with former detainees and witnesses describing scenes of physical and psychological torture in the camps.
Authorities have cited a slew of seemingly bogus excuses for locking people up. One man was detained for being a terrorist suspect because he set his watch to a different time from Beijing, according to a former detainee.
Beijing has denied that internment camps exist, but acknowledged that it has a program of “resettlement” for people it considers extremists.