Chinese police are collecting DNA samples en masse from Tibetans

The database could be used for any purpose.
Deniz Yildiran
Traditional prayers and prostrations in front of Jokhang, Lhasa, Tibet.
Traditional prayers and prostrations in front of Jokhang, Lhasa, Tibet.


It seems that China is taking another step forward in developing surveillance technologies further as part of a “crime detection” program.

According to a report published by Human Rights Watch on September 5, Chinese authorities are collecting DNA samples through finger-prick devices from Tibetan residents across the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). It’s stated that residents are not allowed to decline the police’s request, and people don’t have to be criminal suspects to be asked for their samples, while children at kindergartens were asked to submit their DNAs without their parents’ consent.

The drives of DNA collections have been identified in 14 distinct locations across seven municipalities of the TAR in the western part of the Tibetan plateau. These locations include one prefecture, two counties, two towns, two townships, and seven villages.

Police have been conducting a mass DNA collection program since 2016 until now, according to another research published by The Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto. Analyzing 100 public sources, the lab found out that police may have collected between roughly 919,282 and 1,206,962 DNA samples from 2016 to 2022. The total amount of samples belongs to 25.1% to 32.9% of Tibet’s population, which is 3.66 million.

Defense: A tool to fight crime

The lab also revealed that police had collected the samples of men, women, and children without pointing out any criminal investigation, and authorities have defended the collection as a tool to fight crime, find missing people, and ensure social stability.

“It’s tied into larger attempts by the police to hoover up as much data from the public as they can,” Emile Dirks, author of the Citizen Lab’s report, told VICE World News.

“It’s possible for police to use this completed population database for whatever purpose they see fit,” Dirks added.

China’s Ministry of Public Security has set up a system called “a male ancestry investigation” to deal with crimes since 2017 and has been collecting family records and genetic data from five to ten percent of its male citizens, The Vice reported.

“China now has the world’s largest forensic DNA database and appears to be the only country in the world where police are harvesting en masse DNA samples outside the scope of criminal investigations,” James Leibold, a professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, said.

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