Why is China holding Chinese Uighur Muslims

Muslim minority - China holds a million Uyghurs prisoner - this is the spy who discovered the prison camps and made them public

China holds a million Uyghurs prisoners - this is the spy who discovered the prison camps and made them public

China is holding a million members of the Muslim minority prisoner. It is thanks to Nathan Ruser that the world knows that.

In the beginning there were thin lines in the desert. Paths that show where users of the popular Strava fitness app are running. Nathan Ruser, a security policy student in Canberra, began collecting them. Layer by layer he laid the route calculations on top of one another, and a picture soon emerged.

Ruser, then almost a teenager, had used the data of sweaty elite soldiers to identify the secret bases of American troops in Syria and Afghanistan. The Pentagon wasn't thrilled. It banned the fighters from using the program. "Lots of other people still use it," Ruser said in an interview with CH Media. "And it is still an important source of information".

The Australian is now 23 years old. But he looks younger - with pale skin, dark hair and side parting. He is already one of the most influential spies in the world. His hobby from then is now a job: he analyzes satellite images for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank. It is thanks to his longstanding interest in the protection of human rights that the world can learn in detail how China imprisons hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in internment camps, and how Beijing systematically suppresses the Muslim minority in Xinjiang Province.

“At least 300 internment camps have been built or expanded since 2017,” says Ruser. Two thirds of the mosques in the province were also damaged. «That means de-Islamization, or complete destruction».

Critics have compared the situation in northwest China with that in Tibet, where the mass influx of Han Chinese has turned the local population into a powerless minority. The re-education camps in Xinjiang, or "indoctrination camps" as Ruser calls them, are believed to have held up to a million Uyghurs. A number that China denies.

With Google Earth and Google Maps

For his research, Ruser works almost exclusively with freely available sources of information. Especially Google Earth and Google Maps. In the images taken by satellites or airplanes, he meticulously searches for changes in the landscape, for new constructions, for alterations to existing buildings. New, large systems with watchtowers are typical for warehouses. He and his team also view night photos.

Headlights that illuminate high walls and fences are another indication. He does believe the Chinese government when it claims to have recently released Uyghurs from internment. Nevertheless, he found a tightening. "People from low-security prisons have been relocated to high-security facilities."

Ruser also uses other sources. Images taken by European satellites, or even Chinese ones.

Australia at odds with the Beijing government

The analyst does not see himself as an instrument in the increasingly loud verbal war between the West and China. His home country Australia in particular has been in an escalating dispute with Beijing for months. The drop that broke the barrel was Canberra's request for an investigation into the origin of the Covid-19 virus. Beijing felt snubbed, accused. Trade boycotts and sharp diplomatic notes followed. "I only provide the information," says Ruser. "What the politicians do with it is no longer my concern."

He acknowledges, however, that his work has already been used "to politicize the situation in Xinjiang and to kick China." The violation of human rights, however, would speak its own language. “It doesn't have to be part of a bigger story,” says Ruser. Soon he wants to expand his work - from his passion for human rights to protecting the environment. He wants to use satellites to discover where ecosystems are being violated and nature is being vandalized by companies or governments.

You never found a bug

It's another job that I'm sure won't just bring him friends. It is true that he was never threatened by China. "Although you analyzed my observations, you never found a mistake". That confirms the quality of his work. In any case, he sees no reason to go underground and work undercover.

To the amazement of many observers, Ruser uses a comparatively insecure mobile phone operated with the Android operating system. He is also active on Facebook and Twitter. He's thinking about protecting himself a little better, at least in the digital world. “But I still think that if you haven't done anything, you don't have to hide”.