By Frances Martel
September 12, 2022
Uyghur community leaders organized a rally this weekend outside the White House demanding action in the face of growing reports of starvation in occupied East Turkistan, where the Chinese Communist Party has trapped residents in their homes since July in the name of preventing the spread of Chinese coronavirus .
China continues to impose “zero-covid” lockdowns on major cities – and in East Turkistan, entire regions – porportedly as a means of diminishing the spread of the disease. While similar house arrest measures were taken throughout the world in the early days of the ongoing pandemic, China remains the only major country to continue using lockdowns against the virus. Doing so has resulted in widespread global outrage and even condemnation from the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), which had previously praised China for its coronavirus response.
Unlike the more recent lockdowns in major cities populated by ethnic Han majorities – like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen – the majority Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz people of East Turkistan are reportedly facing mass starvation, as the Communist Party fails to provide food shipments to homes where authorities do not let people out. Videos began surfacing in the past week on heavily censored Chinese social media outlets of people in the region desperately calling for the government to provide food, saying that they and their children were starving with no end in sight and no response from authorities.
Prior to the lockdowns, China began a campaign of genocide in the region to exterminate its indigenous Turkic population through mass internment in concentration camps, killing prisoners for organ harvesting, and sterilizing entire villages, according to eyewitnesses and human rights investigators.
Protesters convening in front of the White House on Monday asked the administration of leftist President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the global media, and other actors to increase pressure on the Chinese Communist Party to stop what they referred to as a “starvation genocide.” The rally was organized by the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM), which advocates for an East Turkistan independent of communist Chinese rule. China refers to East Turkistan using the Han name “Xinjiang.”
“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 at the event.
“Many reports have emerged from East Turkistan that the Chinese government is locking up Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in their home and leaving them to starve. Hundreds of horrific videos and other posts on social media from East Turkistan show families across East Turkistan suffering starvation after being locked up in their homes for weeks,” Hudayar explained. “The content of many of these videos shows Uyghurs pleading to the government, pleading with them to let them out and bring them food to feed their starving children.”
Hudayar also noted that Uyghurs had documented “trucks of Uyghur naan bread being thrown away and fruits and vegetables being left to rot in warehouses.”
“We can see this is a deliberate effort by the Chinese government as part of its ongoing campaign of genocide to murder Uyghurs and other Turkic people under the guise of Covid lockdowns through forced starvation,” Hudayar concluded.
Elfidar Iltebir, the president of the Uyghur American Association, used her address to urge global media to dedicate more resources to covering the Chinese government’s genocide of East Turkistan’s native population. She also urged the United States and other global governments to pressure China to allow Uyghurs abroad to send food and medicine to their starving relatives at home, assuming it was unwilling to feed them.
“Our people are left alone to die. This is another face of genocide: purposely, systematically, the government is not delivering food to our people, so our people really need help, they’re desperate — that’s why they\re risking their live and sharing those videos with us,” Iltebir said.
“Let us send money, let us send food, let us help them,” she said.
In moving remarks to the crowd, Tursunay Ziawudun, who personally experienced imprisonment in a Chinese concentration camp, demanded the world, and the Uyghur community in particular, raise their voices ceaselessly to help save their families. Ziawudun is one of as many as 3 million people in the region who China has imprisoned in concentration camps and, after escaping to the United States, has repeatedly testified to enduring extreme torture, including sexual assault, at a concentration camp in East Turkistan, and has loudly advocated for the world to stop financially, if not morally, supporting Beijing.
“Our people are starving and the world is just watching … what are you guys doing, why are you not taking action, why are you just watching us starve to death?” Ziawudun said on Saturday in Uyghur, as translated by Iltebir.
“We need to continue our demonstrations nonstop. Imagine our people risking their lives at home – they are more brave than us, they are the true heroes. They are risking their lives and sharing those videos and letting us know what is going on,” she said, breaking down into tears and telling the crowd, “We shouldn’t even smile, we should feel guilty about enjoying life here.” A child rallygoer later comforted Ziawudun following her speech.
Reports of China using lockdowns to starve Uyghurs in East Turkistan surfaced as early as February 2020, but have since resurfaced amid a new lockdown this summer. According to the American outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA), as many as 12 people have died of starvation or lack of access to lifesaving medicine since China imposed a coronavirus lockdown on East Turkistan in July. RFA has reported that much of the worst of the lockdown has occurred in the city of Ghulja, famous for a thousands-strong anti-communist protest and subsequent communist massacre that occurred there 25 years ago, citing local sources.
RFA’s reporting corroborated social media videos, which the Chinese government is rapidly attempting to delete off its sites, of residents denouncing a total lack of access to food and stating the Chinese government has neither provided food nor allowed residents to leave their homes and procure it. Some videos show people in the region with clear signs of starvation and expressing fears that they may soon die.
In addition to trying to censor the videos, the Communist Party has also attempted to drown out searches for information on “Xinjiang” with tourism advertisements and attractive photos of the region, particularly on international platforms it does not control.
The Guardian, citing a “leaked directive” published in the China Digital Times, reported on Monday that Communist Party officials are following an order to “open a campaign of comment flooding” to make it more difficult to find authentic videos of starvation in Xinjiang.
“Content may include domestic life, daily parenting, cooking, or personal moods. All internet commentary personnel should post once an hour (twice in total), but not in rapid succession! Repeat: not in rapid succession!” the directive reportedly read.