China has began preparing for the mass collection of DNA samples from the native Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, according to humans rights observers.
Xinjiang police told the Associated Press that they’ve started purchasing more than $8.7 million worth of equipment to analyze the DNA samples, including voice-print collection and 3D portrait systems.
The Human Rights Watch organization said it has seen evidence of nearly $3 million in additional DNA testing-related purchases, adding that such a collection process could be used by authorities to strengthen their political control.
The program comes after authorities in China allegedly required Xinjiang residents to hand over DNA samples in 2016, as well as fingerprints and voice records in order to get a passport or travel overseas.
Chinese authorities have taken draconian steps to fight religious extremism among the Uyghurs, including mandatory satellite tracking systems for vehicles in some parts of the region, rewards for terror-related tips and banning women from wearing veils and men growing their beards.
In April, China also banned 29 names considered to be too “extreme” for Islamic babies born in Xinjiang, such as Islam, Quran, Mecca, Hajj, Imam, Jihad, Medina and Saddam.
If used to its fullest capacity, the new equipment could be used to profile up to 10,000 DNA samples a day and millions a year, according to Yves Moreau, a computational biologist at the University of Leuven in Belgium.
The purchases sparks “a legitimate concern that Chinese authorities could be planning to DNA profile a large fraction, or even all” of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, explained Moreau.
“Xinjiang is already an oppressive region with a high level of surveillance,” said Maya Wang, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “To collect even more information on a mass scale unrelated to criminal investigation opens the door for an even greater level of surveillance and control.”