THE ORDER CAME through a police automation system in Ürümqi, the largest city in China’s northwest Xinjiang region. The system had distributed a report — an “intelligence information judgment,” as local authorities called it — that the female relative of a purported extremist had been offered free travel to Yunnan, a picturesque province to the south.
The woman found the offer on the smartphone messaging app WeChat, in a group known simply as “Travelers.” Authorities homed in on the group because of ethnic and family ties; its members included Muslim minorities like Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz, who speak languages beside China’s predominant one, Mandarin. “This group has over 200 ethnic-language people,” the order stated. “Many of them are relatives of incarcerated people. Recently, many intelligence reports revealed that there is a tendency for relatives of [extremist] people to gather. This situation needs major attention. After receiving this information, please investigate immediately. Find out the background of the people who organize ‘free travel,’ their motivation, and the inner details of their activities.”
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