China’s close watch over its Islamic minority is being extended abroad, as Muslims from some Chinese regions make the Hajj pilgrimage wearing state-issued tracking devices.
The state-run China Islamic Association published photos of Chinese Muslims at the Beijing airport departing for Mecca in Saudi Arabia in recent days wearing customized “smart cards” on blue lanyards around their necks. The devices, which include a GPS tracker and personal data, are designed to ensure the wearer’s safety, according to the association.
Human rights activists contend the tracking devices are another example of China’s extraordinary efforts to monitor its Muslim minority using modern surveillance tools.
“This is yet-another way of persecuting Muslims for practicing their religion, by suggesting that they require to be monitored rather like criminal suspects or persons serving a suspended prison sentence,” said Eva Pils, a China human rights expert at King’s College London.
China has detained hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uighurs in “political re-education” centers and other facilities in its northwest.
China legal expert Jerome Cohen says the detentions are possibly the largest outside the criminal process in China since the Maoist “anti-rightist” campaign of the 1950s.
China’s United Front Work Department, which oversees religious regulation, and its Ministry of Public Security didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday. China has previously said its restrictive policies for Muslims were needed to “fight terrorism”.
The state-run Global Times highlighted usage of the tracking devices Tuesday, saying they were being used by fewer than a third of the 11,500 Chinese Muslims making the pilgrimage. Pilgrims from the Xinjiang region, which has been a center of Muslim unrest, aren’t wearing the devices this year, the newspaper said.