EU Uses Chinese Technology Linked to Muslim Internment Camps in Xinjiang

Hikvision has faced repeated accusations over its alleged links to brutal “re-education camps” in Xinjiang.

A leaked German Foreign Ministry report, obtained by DW in January of this year, said an estimated 1 million Uighurs in China are being detained without trial.

Ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups are also being imprisoned, the report said.

In July this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the detention centers “concentration camps” — a term disputed by Beijing.

These allegations were put to Hikvision, in which the Chinese government holds a 40% controlling stake via the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation.

A Hikvision spokesperson, in an emailed statement to DW, said: “Hikvision takes all reports of human rights very seriously and recognizes our responsibility for protecting people. We have been engaging with governments globally to clarify misunderstandings about the company and address their concerns.”

Hikvision, however, did not comment on DW’s specific questions on the company’s reported connection to the detention centers and other security contracts with authorities in Xinjiang.

A January 2020 report by the ethics council for the Norwegian government’s pension fund said Hikvision signed five security and surveillance contracts in 2017 with the public authorities in Xinjiang worth more than €230 million ($273 million).

They included tenders for surveillance technology at internment camps, the report said.

It described another contract as providing “a network of around 35,000 cameras to monitor schools, streets and offices” and the “installation of facial recognition cameras at 967 mosques.”

The ethics council’s report recommended divesting from the company due to “an unacceptable risk that Hikvision, through its operations in Xinjiang, is contributing to serious human rights abuses.”

Last month, Norges Bank, which manages the investments, said “the company is no longer in the fund’s portfolio.”

Hikvision has said in the past that it has no access to any data processed by its hardware and no information is sent to Beijing.

DW reported in February how technology is used to subject the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities to draconian methods of tracking and arrest.

EU talks tough on China

EU officials’ use of Hikvision technology seems to be at odds with the bloc’s own policy goals, given that it has been a repeated critic of China’s human rights record.

The European Parliament gave its annual human rights prize to Uighur activist Ilham Tohti in 2019, who has been jailed for life.

On Sunday, his daughter Jewher tweeted that she had not had any contact with him for three years.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Beijing at an EU-China summit in June that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are non-negotiable.”

European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs the regular meetings of EU leaders, has also been critical of Chinese repression. 

We will not stop promoting respect for universal human rights, including those of minorities such as the Uighurs,” the ex-Belgian PM said in a speech to the UN General Assembly last month.


EU Urged to Cut Hikvision Ties

German Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, who heads the European Parliament’s China delegation, said that DW’s revelations of the use of Hikvision technology were “extremely disturbing.”

It points to a shameful lack of due diligence in procurement,” he told DW in a telephone interview. “Hikvision is a tech company that is deeply complicit in the terrible oppression of the Uighur people in Xinjiang which borders on genocide.”

Bütikofer said EU officials should “immediately create transparency and draw the adequate consequences: i.e. sever any direct or indirect business relationship with Hikvision.”

Charlie Weimers, a Swedish MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists group, said: “The EU should have no dealings whatsoever with a Chinese firm that is alleged to be involved in some of the most abhorrent human rights abuses in the world.”

Nobel Prize winners should adhere to a higher standard,” he added.

In 2012, the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize for its contribution to “peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights.”


Question Marks over EU Procuremen

DW has been unable to locate any public tenders for the equipment on the EU’s procurement websites.

Parliamentary insiders, who work on the European Parliament’s budget committee, also say there is no trace of them in any public EU records.

Internal rules say that contracts can be kept secret if they are linked to “special security measures.”

The European Parliament and the European Commission were asked to provide the documents linked to the hardware’s acquisition. 

Officials at both institutions did not provide them by the time of publication.

Given that neither Hikvision, nor its European subsidiaries, have been blacklisted by the EU, there is no suggestion of any illegality.

The equipment is neither connected to Parliament’s IT network, nor registers any data,” said a European Parliament spokesperson in a written response to DW.  

The spokesperson declined to confirm if Hikvision technology was being used in Brussels.

When DW provided photos of the cameras, she said: “We cannot comment further on anything related to security.”

A spokesperson for the European Commission, in a written statement to DW, has since said the cameras were “purchased under an existing framework contract.”

James Franey is a journalist covering Europe.This article is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).