Xinjiang clampdown widens to collection of DNA samples

China | 17 May 2017

China appears to be laying the groundwork for the broad collection of DNA samples from residents of largely Muslim Xinjiang, which been under a security crackdown, rights observers and experts said.

Regional police said they are in the process of purchasing at least US$8.7 million (HK$68 million) in equipment to analyze DNA samples.

Observers from Human Rights Watch said they've seen evidence of almost US$3 million in additional purchases related to DNA testing and warned that such a collection program could be used as a way for authorities to beef up their political control.

The move comes after Chinese authorities last year reportedly required Xinjiang residents to submit DNA samples, fingerprints and voice records to obtain passports or travel abroad.

Since it started collecting DNA profiles in 1989, China has amassed the unique genetic information on more than 40 million people, constituting the world's largest DNA database, according to a study last year by forensic researchers at the China Ministry of Public Security.

Unlike many other countries, China lacks legal protections to guard people's privacy and prevent their genetic information from being misused, said Helen Wallace, founder of the British group GeneWatch.

Xinjiang borders several unstable Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan. It has experienced numerous bombings and vehicle and knife attacks blamed on ethnic separatists from the Uygur minority.

In one of the most recent attacks, eight people, including three assailants, were killed in a February knife attack in southern Xinjiang's Pishan County.

Chinese authorities seeking to counter religious extremism among the Uygurs have taken increasingly aggressive steps to quell the unrest. Those have included mandatory satellite tracking systems for vehicles in some areas and rewards for terror-related tips.


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