China collects DNA from all Uyghurs in Xinjiang

Data collection being conducted under the guise of a 'free health check' program
China collects DNA from all Uyghurs in Xinjiang

Muslim men arrive at the Id Kah Mosque for morning prayers in Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Authorities are collecting DNA samples from locals under the guise of a free health program. (Johannes Eisele/AFP)

December 14, 2017
Chinese authorities are collecting DNA samples and other biometric information from all residents aged 12-65 in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, a leading human rights group said on Dec.13.

The region is home to more than 11 million Muslim ethnic Uyghurs.

The collection of DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types are being made under the pretext of a free annual physical health check program, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, adding that it far exceeds a program already in place that requires passport applicants to provide their biodata.

It is unclear whether the authorities were telling those taking part in the check-ups that their DNA was being collected and stored

"Xinjiang authorities should rename their physical exams project 'Privacy Violations for All,' as informed consent and real choice does not seem to be part of these programs," the group’s China director Sophie Richardson said.

"The mandatory databanking of a whole population’s biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms, and it’s even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free health care program."

Human Rights Watch said details of the biometric scheme were oulined in an official document called "The [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous] Region Working Guidelines on the Accurate Registration and Verification of Population," published on the government website in Xinjiang’s Aksu city, adding that a notice distributing it to lower-level offices was dated July 2, 2017.

According to state media reports, Xinjiang’s government authorized the Population Registration Program in February 2017 and said the program is meant for "scientific decision-making" that promotes poverty alleviation, better management, and "social stability."


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