Children outside their traditional Uyghur-style house in Xinjiang
Children outside their traditional Uyghur-style house in Xinjiang
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

It has the makings of another TV spy drama with a family plot line. But the disturbing revelations of a Le Monde investigation come as a shocking reality for thousands of Uyghur families in China, who may have been infiltrated by agents sent by Beijing to monitor how members of the Muslim minority group lived.

These Chinese "cousins' were trained to lower their hosts' guard while investigating their religious practices, according to revelations by Harold Thibault and Brice Pedroletti, two journalists for the French daily with extensive experience in China.

The "cousin" program began in 2016, when more than 100,000 civil servants were sent to the northwest region of Xinjiang, where most Uyghurs live, and which has long been most resistant to Chinese influence. The practice became more widespread in 2018, with the goal of sending more than a million government representatives into homes over the next two years.

• The program is now called "living together, cooking together, eating together, learning together, sleeping together." The "cousins' spend one week a month in Uyghur homes, with the main targets being local officials, poor families and those with family members who have been taken away by the state.

• The "cousins' usually arrive with a gift or money, but then fill out evaluations to assess potential radicalization, like the presence of religious texts and how men interact with women.

• "They initially act as guests, but the relationship is immediately reversed, the host is in fact a hostage in their own home. It's a forced relationship, which shows them that nothing escapes the state that these cousins embody. It's an extension of the camps but outside the barbed wire," says Timothy Grose, a specialist in Chinese ethnic politics at the Rose-Hulman Institute.

The program is part of a larger surveillance infrastructure, including placing informers in schools and mosques, video monitoring and tapping smartphones. At least one million Uyghurs of the approximately 11.5 million in China are currently in internment camps.

• "For them, it seemed like a game, but it was spying on us," says Zumret Dawut, a Uyghur woman who spent months in a camp and is now a refugee in Virginia. Four Chinese officials stayed in Dawut's home.

• Accusations of sexual harassment have come out, especially when male relatives are detained, leaving women alone with the "cousins."

• Zawut said one of them called her drunk and offered to take care of her daughter. Worried, she would sleep with her daughters in bed: "I used to hold them very tightly."

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Thibault and Pedroletti were currently based in China, and that their report was part of the secret China Cables series of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Lady Amazona, 29, a lucha libre wrestler for 10 years, recently competed against five other luchadoras in the Furia de Titanes women’s championship.

Mar García

MEXICO CITY — Huge lamps swing from the ceiling on the sixth floor of a building in downtown Mexico City, illuminating the wrestling ring below. The crowd holds its collective breath as a woman emerges from the shadows. Her bright blue hair whirls behind her sparkling makeup as she kicks out her knee-high black boots. A deep voice booms over the loudspeaker:

“From the Mexican jungle comes Ladyyy Amazonaaa!”

Keep reading... Show less
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ