Xinjiang authorities detain hundreds of villagers protesting COVID lockdowns

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More than 600 mostly young Uyghurs from a village in Ghulja were detained on Monday by authorities in Xinjiang after they ignored a strict COVID-19 lockdown and staged a peaceful street protest against a lack of food that has led to famine and deaths, a local police officer said.

The detention rate was much higher than China’s official figure published the same day on an official police website, which said only two people who violated lockdown restrictions in the city of Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) were sentenced to five days in custody.

Ghulja, a city of about half a million mostly Uyghurs and other Turkish minorities in Ili (Yili) Autonomous Prefecture in the northern part of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), has been closed since early August due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Video posted on Chinese social media last week showed that strict policies denied them medical care and prevented them from getting food, leading to famine in some cases. RFA was unable to independently verify the videos

The lockdowns, along with mandatory testing, are part of China’s “zero-COVID” approach to prevent the further spread of the highly contagious respiratory virus, but they have resulted in exorbitant commodity prices, significant food shortages and a lack of healthcare, especially for people living below the poverty line.

In response to the zero-COVID policy, residents of Karadong village in Ghulja marched out of their homes and took to the streets.

“We came out because of the deaths, otherwise we would have kept quiet,” a Uyghur protester said in a sound bite from a social media post on Monday. “Look at these people who took to the streets! We, the people of Karadong village in Ghulja city, took to the streets! She [the authorities] sent no help here; that’s why people took to the streets when they couldn’t bear it.”

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The villagers demonstrated despite warnings broadcast on state-run Xinjiang TV warning citizens that authorities would punish them as “separatists” if they “spread rumors” about the spate of COVID-19 infection in the area.

“Those who use the novel coronavirus pneumonia epidemic to create and spread rumors to split the country, harm the unity of the country or incite the overthrow of the state regime and socialist system are covered by Article 103 , Section 2 and Article 105, Section 2 of the Criminal Code and will be prosecuted for the offense of inciting the division of the country and overthrowing the state regime,” the announcement said.

When asked by RFA about the number of protesters arrested, an officer from Karadong Town 2 Police Station said that 617 people from Karadong village had been detained. He also said agents from his agency arrested 182 people in the area they are responsible for.

“Most of them are misguided youngsters – 17, 18, 19″ [years old] or even younger,” he said. “I spoke to some of them. They all said they had done it wrong and acknowledged the [Chinese Communist] The benevolence of the party and the government. During the interrogations, they all expressed their regrets.”

The officer said officials are helping impoverished families during the lockdown put in place since early August

Village and community cadres visit and distribute flour, oil and meat,” he said. “Economically wealthy families in the village also help the poor.”

An officer from Ghulja Yengihayat Police Station contacted by RFA said he did not know how many people involved in the protest were arrested.

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“Those handling the case know this. We do not know. They haven’t informed us yet,” he said.

An officer from the Ghulja City Police Command Center refused to provide information about the protesters by phone.

“Please ask the concerned offices,” he said. “We cannot provide any information on this. Information about this has been published by the police, just look it up online.”

But when RFA pointed out to him that there was a… difference between the information posted online and what the officer of Karadong Town 2 Police Station said, he replied, “I don’t know how many cases have been filed in this case. The prosecutors know that.”

‘Terrible things are happening’

Many Uyghurs have posted short videos of the hunger they are experiencing on the Chinese video hosting service Douyin, although some of them, including some Han Chinese, have complained that censors were removing their videos.

A warning in the Uyghur language appeared on Douyin on Monday telling residents not to post information about the COVID lockdown on social media.

“From today until September 18, no one is allowed to share news, images with news on them, images of desperate expressions or videos on social media, especially in separate chat rooms because our country will hold its National Congress on October. 18′, the message reads. “We are all well aware of it. That is why we must strictly adhere to this.”

The Chinese government aims to prevent large-scale COVID outbreaks in Xinjiang and other parts of China ahead of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, when the party’s national policy goals for the next five years are set and its top leader elected.

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Meanwhile, Uyghur residents have complained that their housing management offices are charging exorbitant fees for delivering food donated from outside the area, while Uyghurs from outside Ghulja say housing managers have refused to accept food they wanted to donate to help people in the urban environment. that need.

Members of Uyghur organizations abroad peacefully demonstrated this weekend to protest the Ghulja famine in front of Chinese embassies and consulates around the world, in the United States, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Australia and Turkey.

Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the Washington, DC-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and an expert on the Xinjiang region, tweeted Monday: “Terrible things are happening from the Uyghur regions, including serious and potentially life-threatening conditions caused by lockdowns. .”

“My heart goes out very much to the Uyghur community right now, praying for strength in the face of what appears to be images of utter despair and even death amid a brutal COVID lockdown,” he tweeted. “Years of oppression have left Uyghurs in the region utterly helpless.”

As many as a dozen people in the country of Ghulja have died from hunger or lack of access to medicines since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed by Chinese authorities, RFA reported on September 9, citing information from residents and local officials.

In late August, the United Nations human rights chief released a report on Xinjiang, saying that China’s arbitrary detention and repression of Uyghurs and other Turkish minorities in the region “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

Translated by Mamatjan Juma for RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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