Here, a Uyghur dissident living in the UK shares his story with Express.co.uk, including the "heartbreak" his family has suffered and his warning for the future of China under its current ruler.
By Charlie Bradley
December 4, 2022
Aziz Isa Elkun is no stranger to unrest in China. For him, the protests that erupted this week against the ongoing lockdowns are reminiscent of an even more fraught period in Chinese history. "I was a student during the protests in 1989", he told Express.co.uk, referring to the infamous demonstrations that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre, where more than 10,000 people were killed by the Chinese military. "All of the old memories of that are coming back to me.
"It's very sad, all the sanctions after Tiananmen Square in 1989 were lifted by Western countries, they thought that China would become more open and respect humanity and democracy. In the years that have past, our politicians say China is in a 'golden era'. How can you say this is a golden era when Uyghur people are being locked up and murdered."
The current protests are seen as the biggest challenge to the government since those deadly demonstrations over 30 years ago. Citizens have taken to the streets across the country after an apartment fire in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, led to the deaths of at least 10 people, who were allegedly prevented from leaving their homes due to Covid rules. This death count has been disputed by locals, who say in reality it is much higher.
Aziz grew up in the Xinjiang region, and studied in Urumqi. He says this incident is typical of the Chinese Communist Party's brutal rule. He said: "They lie and try to deceive the world. Not just with Covid, but also for other political reasons."
Even as a British national who has now lived in the UK for more than 20 years, Aziz has also felt the unforgiving nature of the Chinese government. He and his family are Uyghurs, a Turk ethnic group native to the Xinjiang region in western China. They have been targeted by rulers in Beijing due to their Islamic faith.
Aziz doesn't know if his mother is alive (Image: Aziz Isa Elkun)
The Covid lockdowns have caused anger in China (Image: Getty)
The Chinese government has been accused of crimes against humanity and genocide against the minority group. Human rights groups say more than one million Uyghurs have been detained in what Beijing calls 're-education camps. Survivors have told stories of awful abuse taking place there.
Aziz believes that the persecution faced by the Uyghur population is now moving across China via Chinese President Xi Jinping's Covid lockdown rules.
He said: "We cannot simply say this is about Covid. First, China is an oppressive state. It's about the political struggle in China because Xi Jinping is trying to control everything. He wants to be a Chinese king or emperor, and he has crushed all of his opponents.
"The lockdowns and the Covid rules protect the political power of Xi Jinping to crack down on political opponents and impose total oppression and terror onto the Chinese population."
"The United Nations and Western countries accept that China is committing crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs. Xi Jinping used the genocide as a test, now he will extend oppression to the whole of China in the name of Covid."
Aziz has felt this persecution personally. He hasn't spoken to his mother since 2017, shortly after his father's death, and doesn't even know if she is still alive. Having been a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party, he has been blocked from contacting his loved ones back home.