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July 5th, 2021, marks the 12th year since the Urumqi Massacre took place. Save Uighur remembers the thousands of victims who lost their lives during their struggles for liberty, equity, and equality. The memories of the Uyghur student protestors imprisoned, murdered, and cast away by the Chinese regime will always stay within our hearts. Their brave attempts to challenge Chinese government oppression etch a permanent place within the pages of history.
Twelve years ago, Uyghur youths staged a protest in response to the recent killings of Uyghurs at the Shao Guan toy factory in Guangdong, China. The “ethnic clash” was prompted by rumors that Uyghur workers had assaulted two Han Chinese girls. This allegation was later found to be untrue by police investigation. Several thousand Han workers came to the factory campus and attacked the Uyghur workers in their dorms, using iron pipes and other weapons to beat them, in most cases, to death.
The Chinese workers killed around a hundred Uyghurs in a matter of a few hours. In addition to ignoring the attack and death of the Uyghurs, the Chinese government also announced that only two Uyghur workers had been killed in the attack. To many, it appeared as the Chinese government intentionally falsified the numbers. A Han worker who had taken part in the attack said, “Seven or eight of us beat a person together…We used iron bars to batter them to death and then dragged them out and put the bodies together.” The Han man claimed that the government had lied about the death toll, “…they say only two people died…that must be wrong. How can they not be dead? I saw their heads bleeding.” Witness reports received by the World Uyghur Congress account that at least thirty Uyghurs were killed and more than 300 injured. The families of the victims subsequently received two things from the police: the body of their loved ones and a threat of silence, which was an underlying threat of death should they ever speak of the incident.
Many Uyghurs wrote appeals to the governor of Urumqi and demanded justice for the death of innocent Uyghurs. They asked for an investigation of the incident and a punishment for where it was due, but the Chinese government ignored them. Consequently, many Uyghur college students and youth organized a peaceful demonstration in Urumqi. The protest began on the evening of July 5th. Demonstrators carried the Chinese flag, and asked for justice for the Uyghurs killed in the Shao Guan toy factory. The presence of the Chinese flags is testimony that the demonstration was intended to be peaceful, and violence only started afterwards as a result of police violence towards the protestors. Uyghur eye-witnesses have said that Chinese police were informed of the upcoming protest by its announcement on the internet, and they were present in the People’s Square before the protestors arrived. Tear gas was used initially to disperse the crowd, and the paramilitary opened fire when the protestors refused to leave. The paramilitary shooting, beating, and arresting of the demonstrators began immediately and lasted for hours. This is when an initially peaceful protest turned violent. By 8:30 p.m. the student protestors had been chased into three sections of the city and electricity was cut off in Urumqi for 90 minutes. Armored vehicles and machine guns were used to surround the protestors, and the police opened fire with full military force. An estimated 1,000 people were killed during the 90 minute period.
For the next few days, thousands of armed Han mobs raided Uyghur neighborhoods, attacking and killing thousands. The mobs destroyed Uyghur shops and restaurants and demolished mosques, and overall caused more damage and death than the Uyghur protestors had previously. A Han Chinese, anonymously named TD wrote:
“Immigrant Chinese…are beating and killing every Uyghur they can find…the Uyghurs killed and injured [are] many times more than what was reported. I was told that the people walking on the streets are only Han Chinese…[and] are carrying long knives. It is unimaginable that some Chinese killed Uyghurs, and then hung their dead bodies on trees. Some Han Chinese are standing on crossing bridges and throwing Uyghurs off the bridges. There were so many dead bodies, trash-collecting trucks move them away.”
International and domestic standards were not met in the arrest of Uyghurs, and large scale sweeps were carried out in Urumqi for the next few months. Many of Uyghurs detained as a result of these unlawful arrests disappeared without a trace. The “enforced disappearances” of 43 Uyghurs have been documented, but there is overwhelming evidence suggesting that there were many more arrests and “disappearances.” In the wake of the July 5th massacre, thousands were killed, detained, jailed, or “disappeared” by the Chinese government, and an originally peaceful students’ protest ended tragically by the cruel hands of the Chinese.
Though annihilated, the protestors’ yearnings for freedom and justice has sent a message to the Chinese: a message that says no matter how they are crushed, whether in concentration camps, or in jails, whether they are put under constant surveillance and forced to denounce all that they believe in, they will not be overcome and they will persist, until eventually, they will achieve the true triumph of victory.