China steps up Tibet DNA collection, including blood samples from kindergartner
China has stepped up DNA collection efforts across Tibet, including taking blood samples from children as young as five years old.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said that Chinese authorities are committing a “serious rights violation” by expanding DNA collection efforts across Tibet.
Pak Yiu, writing in Nikkei Asia said that the Chinese authorities have stepped up a campaign to collect genetic samples from at least half a million people in just one municipality since authorities kicked off the mass collection drive in July 2019.
“DNA collection from each resident in localities within Tibet is significant not just in terms of concerns about consent or privacy; it represents a further advance in close management of the population by the government,” the report said.
The group’s report identified several online articles that said children as young as five were included in the DNA collection drive. In one article published in April, police reportedly collected blood samples from children at a Nimu County kindergarten.
“There is no publicly available evidence suggesting people can decline to participate or that police have credible evidence of criminal conduct that might warrant such collection,” added the report.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have defended the campaign as a crime-fighting tool to link suspects to offences, but the rights group said it threatens individual privacy rights.
“The authorities’ stated use for this data — crime detection — does not appear to constitute a legitimate, proportionate purpose that serves the child’s best interest,” the report said.
In mid-2019, the Tibetan public security department called for tender bids to build a regional-level DNA database.
Human Rights Watch identified seven municipalities in the mountainous region, including in the western part of Tibet, where the drive has been taking place, reported Nikkei Asia.
This is not the first time that there have been reports of authorities collecting biometric data from Tibetans. Researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute published a report in 2020 that said Chinese officials offered free physical exams to collect blood back in 2013 and expanded the program to the rest of the country in 2017.
China annexed Tibet in 1950 in what it called a “peaceful liberation.” The region is one of the most restricted areas in the country. Journalists and diplomats are barred from travelling independently, and foreign visitors must join local tour groups.
Broad surveillance measures have been used over the years in China, targeting Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uyghurs in the far western region of Xinjiang.
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