Rights group criticises China for mass DNA collection in Xinjiang

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BEIJING, Dec 13 – Chinese authorities have
collected DNA and other biometric data from the whole population
of the volatile western region of Xinjiang, Human Right Watch
said on Wednesday, denouncing the campaign as a gross violation
of international norms.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang in the past
few years in violence between Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people,
and ethnic majority Han Chinese, which Beijing blames on
Islamist militants.

The unrest has fuelled a sweeping security crackdown there,
including mass rallies by armed police, tough measures that
rights advocates say restrict religious and cultural expression,
and widespread surveillance.

Police are responsible for collecting pictures,
fingerprints, iris scans and household registration information,
while health authorities should collect DNA samples and blood
type information as part of a “Physicals for All” programme, the
New York-based group said in a statement, citing government a
document.

“The mandatory data-banking of a whole population’s bio-data,
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’s China director Sophie Richardson said.

According to the Xinjiang-wide plan posted online by the
Aksu city government in July, main goals for the campaign
include collecting the biometric data for all people between the
age of 12 and 65, and verifying the region’s population for a
database.

“Blood type information should be sent to the county-level
police bureaus, and DNA blood cards should be sent to the county
police bureaus for inspection,” the plan said.

Data for “priority individuals” should be collected
regardless of age, it said, using a term the government has
adopted to refer to people deemed a security risk.

Government workers must “earnestly safeguard the peoples’
legal rights”, plan said, but it made no mention of a need to
inform people fully about the campaign or of any option for
people to decline to take part.

Xinjiang officials could not be reached for comment.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about the
report by Human Rights Watch, accused the group of making
“untrue” statements.

He told a regular news briefing in Beijing the general
situation in the region was good.

Human Rights Watch cited an unidentified Xinjiang resident
saying he feared being labelled with “political disloyalty” if
he did not participate, and that he had not received any results
from the health checks.

State media, reporting on the campaign checks, have said
participation was voluntary.

The official Xinhua news agency in November cited health
authorities as saying 18.8 million people in the region had
received such physicals in 2017 for a 100 percent coverage rate.

-(Reuters)