Thermo Fisher DNA Collection Kits Purchased by Police in Tibet

fDocuments released on a Chinese government website reveal that police in Tibet last month bought more than $160,000 worth of DNA kits and other supplies from Massachusetts-based laboratory equipment retailer Thermo Fisher. The interception reports. The equipment may have been used in the intense scrutiny the Chinese government has been putting on Tibetans and some other ethnic minorities: Thermo Fisher’s sale news follows a report from privacy group Citizen Lab saying authorities have collected DNA from more than 1.2 million Tibetans as of 2016, plus a separate Human Rights Watch report claiming authorities collected DNA from Tibetan children.

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Chinese authorities have justified DNA collection as a means of solving crimes, but the Citizen Lab report claims that police in Tibet could use this genetic information for any purpose, including social control, because there are no controls in place. “What is happening in Tibet is part of the authorities deepening intrusive surveillance and policing, extending to the village level in rural areas,” said Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch intercept.

This is not the first time Thermo Fisher’s products have been used for large-scale DNA collection and analysis in China. The company previously sold supplies to authorities in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, where police have been collecting genetic information from local people, including reportedly Uyghurs detained in the region’s detention centers. Amid criticism of the sales, Thermo Fisher announced it would stop supplying DNA kits to Xinjiang in 2019, but made no such statement on sales in other regions of China. A 2021 New York Times The investigation found that Xinjiang police were still buying equipment from Thermo Fisher and another US company, Promega, through Chinese resellers.

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See “China uses Uyghur DNA to predict physical traits”

The new documents highlight that “the abuses that led to the export controls against Xinjiang’s public security are by no means unique to Xinjiang,” says Yves Moreau, a bioinformatician at the University of Leuven who discovered the Tibetan sales files intercept. Additional files found on a third-party website indicate that police in Tibet also purchased Thermo Fisher material in August last year.

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As with post-2019 sales to Xinjiang, Thermo Fisher’s products reached Tibetan authorities through a Chinese broker intercept reports. Thermo Fisher spokesman Ron O’Brien told the publication that the company will investigate the transactions.

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