China’s COVID-19 lockdowns kill 22 in Uyghur region in one day

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Radio Libre Asia (RFA) reported on Wednesday that at least 22 people died of starvation or lack of medical care in a single day amid China’s brutal coronavirus lockdown in Ghulja, a city in the Uyghur region of East Turkestan.

RFA investigated Ghulja’s deaths because Uighurs trapped in coronavirus lockdowns pleaded for help on social media, their pleas noted and spurred on by Uighurs living abroad.

As RFA has pointed out, these are not the first tales of famine since Ghulja was quarantined early last month, but the situation has become desperate enough that oppressed Uyghurs risk severe punishment by protesting in the streets. streets and posting videos online:

Last week, more than 600 Uyghurs, mostly young Uyghurs from a village in Ghulja, were arrested by authorities in Xinjiang after ignoring a strict COVID-19 lockdown and staging a peaceful street protest against the lack of food that had led to starvation and death.

Videos posted by desperate Uyghurs on Chinese social media platforms – and quickly deleted by government censors – show residents under strict “zero-COVID” lockdowns struggling to access food and medical care, some claiming that family members had starved to death.

When RFA followed up on reports of 22 deaths in Ghulja on September 15 alone, two unnamed public officials told the outlet it was true, while a third gruffly insisted that there had been only 20 deaths.

“There are 20 people who died of starvation. Don’t call anymore,” said the irascible municipal official of Ghulja.

Some of these local officials were apparently prepared to kill 20 to 22 because they wanted to refute claims on social media that up to 100 residents died of starvation that day.

Uyghurs in Ghulja said exorbitant fees were charged for food deliveries, while food donations from outside were abruptly refused. Family members of the deceased have confirmed that some were survivors of China’s infamous concentration camps.

RFA spotted a Uyghur-language message posted on Douyin, the national Chinese version of TikTok, ordering residents of Ghulja not to upload “any news, any graphic with news written on it, or pictures of desperate expressions or videos on social media, especially in separate chat rooms.

AlJazeera last week, residents of Ghujla posted photos of their empty fridges and starving children. Some wept as they described their struggles within 40 days and counted the coronavirus lockdown.

A Uyghur student living in Europe tells Al Jazeera that his parents in Ghulja were forced to survive on ‘uncooked dough made from flour, water and salt’ because they are forbidden to use their oven garden under quarantine rules.

“Their voices are still in my head, saying things like I’m hungry, please help us. It’s the 21st century, it’s unthinkable,” said the anguished student.

The lockdown horror censorship in Ghulja is so strict that people have been arrested simply for talking about food shortages on the internet. Al Jazeera reported that some videos had been “deleted and reposted dozens of times as netizens battled online censors”.

Ghulja was the scene of a massacre in 1997, when Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops were sent in to crush Uyghur protests. Uyghur defenders say around 1,600 unarmed townspeople were shot dead by the PLA.

Some Uyghur groups believe the coronavirus lockdowns in what China calls the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” with their suspect food and medicine supplies, are another Chinese effort to thin out their population.

“We are deeply disturbed by the photos and videos coming from our homeland, especially from Ghulja. The Chinese Communist government uses [Chinese coronavirus] as a pretext to lock our people in their homes and continue their genocide. We want to draw attention to it,” Uyghur American Association President Elfidar Iltebir said this week, as quoted by RFA.

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