Muslim women were held in a cell for months by Chinese police for cyber ‘pre-crimes’ such as accessing WhatsApp and a school Gmail account, book says

People are detained by the police after a rally in Hong Kong on December 22, 2019 to show support for the Uighur minority in China
People are detained by the police after a rally in Hong Kong on December 22, 2019 to show support for the Uighur minority in China.
  • Muslim women were sent to Chinese re-education camps for cyber "pre-crimes," a book out Tuesday reveals.
  • One student said she was detained for using a VPN to open her school Gmail account and submit homework.
  • She shared a cell with a woman arrested for using WhatsApp to contact coworkers, the book says.

Women belonging to China's Muslim ethnic groups were detained in a cell for months by Chinese police after being accused of various cyber "pre-crimes," an excerpt from the book "In The Camps: China's High-Tech Penal Colony" revealed.

Vera Zhou, a US permanent resident and student at the University of Washington, said she was detained for downloading a VPN in order to access her school homework and email accounts while visiting her father and boyfriend in Xinjiang, China.

"They informed me that I will be sent to a 're-education class,'" Zhou wrote in remarks to the US Department of Education. "I was required to change into their uniform which has neon green stripes on the sleeves and pants. The door was locked from the outside."

"I was there from October 2017 to March 2018," she added. "I spent my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 2018 New Year in that cell."

The Uighurs and Hui are the two major Muslim ethnic groups in China, living under intense surveillance from the Chinese government. More than one million Uighurs are believed to have been sent to "re-education" camps and prisons like Zhou's, where former detainees detail horrific experiences with torture and medical experiments.

Zhou was held along with 11 other Muslim women identified by police as extremist "pre-criminals" through China's internet security law, the book out Tuesday says. The law, implemented in 2017, requires internet network operators to share personal data with Chinese authorities.

One woman said she was arrested for downloading WhatsApp in order to talk to coworkers in Kazakhstan. Another woman who sold smartphones said she allowed multiple customers to use her ID to set up their SIM cards.

All three were victims of China's high-tech surveillance system that targets Muslim minorities, according to "In the Camps" author Darren Byler.

After spending six months at the camp, Zhou was released under a set of conditions requiring her to stay within her local neighborhood and report frequently to a "social stability worker."

One day, while going to a movie theatre with friends, Zhou said her ID and face were scanned at a checkpoint, prompting an alarm to go off. Another day, she accidentally walked beyond her neighborhood's border, as her face quickly became highlighted by a yellow square on a nearby monitor that identified her as a Muslim pre-criminal.

Zhou soon realized that while her physical confinement had ended, she was still stuck in a digital prison.

But when she was finally able to return to Seattle in 2019, the surveillance technology that made her confinement possible had also reached the US.

Amazon, with headquarters in Seattle, reportedly purchased 1,500 thermal imaging cameras from a Chinese company that the US has blacklisted due to allegations it helped the Chinese government "detain and monitor the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities," Insider's Ben Gilbert reported last April.

The technology is intended to remotely monitor employee temperature as a means of preventing coronavirus from spreading. Despite Dahua 's status with the US government, private businesses are legally allowed to purchase goods from blacklisted companies.

In an earlier email exchange with Business Insider, Amazon spokesperson Rena Lunak confirmed that Amazon is implementing "the use of thermal imagers from multiple manufacturers for temperature screening to create a more streamlined experience for our employees."

However, she added, "none of this equipment has network connectivity, and no personal identifiable information will be visible, collected, or stored."

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