Report: China Arrests ‘Hundreds’ of Uyghurs for Street Protest Against Lockdown Deaths

FILE - Police officers stand at the outer entrance of the Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File

Over 600 people were arrested in occupied East Turkistan on Monday for staging an impromptu protest against the Chinese Communist Party’s brutal coronavirus lockdowns, reports revealed on Tuesday, which locals denounce have resulted in needless deaths from starvation and lack of access to medicine.

The news of hundreds of arrests in the city is a significant escalation from the Chinese government claiming a day before the reports of the mass arrests that it had arrested only four people, all identified as bearing ethnic Han names, for spreading “rumors” of starvation and abuse at the hand of the regime. At least one of the four was reportedly arrested for attempting to organize street protests against the lockdowns.

East Turkistan, which China administers under the name “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” has been the site of an ongoing genocide against its indigenous population of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic people since at least 2017. Communist dictator Xi Jinping has justified the imprisonment of millions in concentration camps and enslavement of at least thousands of others by describing it as a “counter-terrorism” campaign meant to keep vulnerable Muslims in the region from being enticed into jihadist activity. In reality, however, extensive evidence compiled by human rights groups and eyewitness testimonies from the concentration camps reveal a campaign of genocide featuring not just internment and slavery, but the mass sterilization of entire communities to prevent the non-Han ethnic populations of the region from growing.

Chinese authorities reportedly began locking down cities in East Turkistan in late July or early August, allegedly as a response to growing cases of the Chinese coronavirus. The northern city of Ghulja and its surrounds are believed to be currently enduring the worst of the lockdowns. Residents have flooded Chinese social media outlets with videos in which they denounce a complete lack of access to food and medical care, in some cases showing empty refrigerators and even the bodies of their deceased loved ones, rotting in their homes with no escape.

Beijing has imposed its “zero-covid” lockdown policy on the entire nation for years, not just East Turkistan – most recently in its largest city, Shanghai, and industrial hubs like Shenzhen and Chengdu. Unlike those lockdowns, however, the current provisions in Ghulja appear to be unofficial, potentially in an attempt to avoid global condemnation or the flight of foreign investment that followed the Shanghai lockdown.

During the initial outbreak of Chinese coronavirus in Wuhan, the origin city of the pathogen, locals denounced that communist officials were welding people shut in apartment buildings in an attempt to contain them. In Han-majority areas, however, Communist Party officials have provided food and medicine to locked-down residents in the past year, failing to prevent protests but apparently avoid the humanitarian catastrophe currently underway in East Turkistan.

The U.S.-based outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA) confirmed with local police that at least 617 people were arrested in Ghulja on Monday for violating the lockdown and marching peacefully demanding food and other basic needs. One anonymous officer also claimed that another 182 people were arrested in independent incidents of lockdown violations. RFA quoted the officer as claiming that most of the arrested were “misguided” teenagers and children and that “all said they did wrong and acknowledged the Party’s and the government’s benevolence.”

Forced confessions and public statements of remorse and humiliation are a traditional facet of the Chinese legal system.

Uyghur activists shared videos online of what appeared to be groups of civilians leaving their homes in protest, peacefully marching and demanding food.


In a social media post, a protester reportedly emphasized that starvation and other needless deaths had prompted citizens to leave their homes in defiance of the lockdown.

“We came out because of the deaths, otherwise we would have remained silent,” RFA translated the protester as saying. “Look at these people who took to the streets! We, the people of Karadong village of Ghulja city, took to the streets! They [the authorities] did not send any aid here; therefore, people took to the streets when they couldn’t endure it.”

RFA noted that the fear of revolt had escalated to such a point that the Communist Party began broadcasting warnings on television that officials would prosecutor protesters – or even those “spreading rumors” online – as “separatists” seeking “to overthrow the state regime.”

The four Han residents of East Turkistan Chinese police revealed had been arrested on Monday prior to the protests were not, police said, subject to the same accusations of “separatism.” Instead, the four are facing up to ten days of “administrative detention” on charges of “intentionally disturbing public order.”

The protests in East Turkistan this week followed the explosion of hundreds of videos surfacing on Weibo, WeChat, Douyin (Tiktok), and other Chinese social media outlets uploaded by Uyghurs and others in the region expressing terror that they or their loved ones would soon die without food or medical care. The religious freedom site Bitter Winter noted that the eruption of social media chatter was rare, as Uyghurs had rarely taken to the medium despite facing five years of genocide as Chinese censors typically delete dissident content rapidly. The deluge of videos in the past week has been so prodigious, however, that the censors have failed to keep them from being shared in the free world and have reportedly shifted their strategy from censorship to flooding social media with unrelated spam posts to make the authentic content harder to find.

Bitter Winter translated several of the videos, some of which feature residents showing their empty refrigerators; others film their children, who they lament appear to be suffering from fever and have neither food nor medicine.

In one video, a man shows the body of his dead brother.

“Look, my brother Akhmet is dead. His body is frozen. He seems to have been dead for a few days,” a man says in the video. “Is it okay [to] just throw the medicine to [our] home through the window? Why don’t you come into the room and check him? People, be aware that my brother has died because of [the] lockdown!”

Multiple videos show individuals saying they are considering suicide, often standing on ledges or near windows.

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