China Arrests Lockdown Victims in Uyghur Region for Sharing Starvation ‘Rumors’

ALTAY, CHINA - JULY 15, 2022 - Immigration management police officers form a patrol team t
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Communist Party authorities in occupied East Turkistan announced the arrests on Monday of four residents for allegedly “spreading rumors” online of residents starving under Chinese coronavirus lockdowns.

The Chinese government has imposed an unofficial lockdown in much of East Turkistan, which it refers to as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, for over a month, claiming it necessary to stop the spread of Chinese coronavirus. A torrent of social media posts by residents, particularly in the northern city of Ghulja, have denounced the communist regime for failing to provide food and basic medications, placing citizens in deadly situations in the name of preventing the spread of what has become a treatable disease for most. The U.S.-based outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported this week that it had verified the deaths of at least 12 people in the Uyghur region due to starvation or lack of access to necessary medicine.

Uyghur activists are continuously denouncing the lockdown, claiming that it forms a new phase in the ongoing genocide of Uyghurs and other Turkic people in East Turkistan that China began in 2017. Chinese authorities are believed to have imprisoned as many as 3 million non-Han ethnic people in the region in concentration camps since that year, where survivors have testified to being forced into communist indoctrination, slavery, and subject to extreme torture including gang rape, rape with electric batons, and other sexual abuse.

KORLA, CHINA - AUGUST 09: A nurse takes swab sample from a worker for COVID-19 nucleic acid test at a vineyard on August 9, 2022 in Korla, Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China. (Photo by Shen Ling/VCG via Getty Images)

KORLA, CHINA – AUGUST 09: A nurse takes swab sample from a worker for COVID-19 nucleic acid test at a vineyard on August 9, 2022 in Korla, Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China. (Photo by Shen Ling/VCG via Getty Images)

According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, which cited an announcement from Xinjiang police, four individuals were arrested recently under a law barring “intentionally disturbing public order by spreading any rumour, giving false information about the situation of any risk, epidemic disease or emergency, or by any other means.” Police named the individuals, who all appeared to have ethnic Han names, and sentenced them to serve between five to ten days of “administrative detention.” The arrests reportedly occurred in Ghulja, which Communist Party authorities refer to using the Han name Yining.

Ghulja is the historic site of one of the most notorious state assaults on Uyghurs in modern history, known commonly as the 1997 Ghulja massacre. The true death toll of the Ghulja massacre remains unclear but is believed to be in the hundreds, as Chinese police arrested hundreds for participating in a peaceful, anti-communist protest that year for weeks after. Statistics indicate that 30 were killed during the protest itself but do not specify how many were killed, tortured, or otherwise brutalized following the event.

The South China Morning Post specified that the four individuals arrested faced charges related to exposing human rights abuses linked to the coronavirus lockdown.

“Police said one of the accused, identified only by the surname Zu, spread a rumour of an elderly person hanging himself because of starvation. Zu was given five days of detention,” the newspaper specified. Another in the group had reportedly urged neighbors to violate the lockdown and “gather downstairs.”

“[The detainees] spread rumours on the internet, incited antagonistic sentiments, disrupted the order of anti-pandemic measures, [which] resulted in negative social repercussions,” the official police statement read, according to the Morning Post.

The arrests followed a torrent of social media content, including testimonies and videos, surfacing on Chinese regime-controlled sites such as Weibo and WeChat that denounced the threat of starvation under government-mandated lockdowns. The site What’s on Weibo, which documents and translates trending topics on the social media network, documented laments on Sunday from those requiring medical attention, including for potential coronavirus symptoms, and demanding food in Ghulja.

“I’m 41 weeks + 1 day pregnant and nine days past my due date. I’ve been bleeding today. I already was at the Xinhua Hospital for five hours when they told me they were closing the hospital,” one woman wrote, according to one of the site’s post translations. “There are 8 to 9 pregnant women waiting here. Where are we supposed to go, what are we supposed to do?”

Another post denounced that, since the lockdown was unofficial, authorities were allowing tourists from other parts of China to circulate freely but locking down locals.

“We’ve been locked in for 40 days and yet they opened up the tourist areas,” one complained.

At a protest in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Uyghur leaders accused Chinese authorities of deliberately starving out Uyghur areas using the pandemic as an excuse, expanding an already years-long genocide against non-Han residents of East Turkistan.

“There is no doubt that China is using the pretext of Covid lockdowns to deliberately murder Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples through forced starvation,” Salih Hudayar, the prime minister of the East Turkistan Government in Exile, said in an address to the protesters.

“Our people are left alone to die. This is another face of genocide: purposely, systematically, the government is not delivering food to our people,” Elfidar Iltebir, the president of the Uyghur American Association, told the assembled crowd, urging the world to pressure China to allow Uyghurs abroad to send food and medicine into affected regions.

The Chinese Communist Party has responded to the complaints with extensive censorship. The post written by the woman claiming to be pregnant, for example, now boasts an update from authorities that she allegedly received medical care, according to What’s on Weibo. A leaked government directive urged Communist Party members to spam social media sites with “innocuous” photos and videos of Ghulja and East Turkistan generally to drown out any panicked posts from residents.

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