Screenshot from VOX YouTube channel (04:47) detailing Beijing’s oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. 

Despite Beijing’s efforts to constantly deny its genocide against the Uyghur people, and to silence any voices, domestically and abroad, who dare to remind the world of the plight of the 12 million people plus community members — the Uyghur Region, known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, based on its Chinese name, never fails to remind Beijing it can never be silenced.

The unprecedented street protests occurred across China from late November to mid-December 2022 and forced Chinese President Xi Jinping to abandon his controversial “zero-COVID” policy. The protests started on November 25 in Xinjiang’s capital Ürümqi after a fire broke out in an apartment complex, resulting in ten deaths. The building was under strict lockdown because of China’s zero-COVID policies, which may have led to increased deaths as residents were unable to exit through the buildings’ primary entrance. 

One of the biggest demonstrations that shook Shanghai, a city known for its business mind and political conservatism, took place for several days on Ürümqi street as social media censorship prohibited any mention of the fire in Xinjiang’s capital. At one point, the authorities decided to remove signs identifying the street, but it was too late: for millions of Chinese people, grief over deaths in Ürümqi had turned into anger against their government. 

In recent Chinese history, this is not the first time that there is an Uyghur element in political demands: one of the top leaders of the student movement that was crushed on June 4, 1989, in Tiananmen Square, is Örkesh Dölet, more known internationally under the Chinese transcription of his name, Wu’erkaixi. 

Regardless of what Beijing and its allies claim, genocide is taking place in the Uyghur region, a fact recognized by a growing number of members of the international community. Indeed since 2017, China's government has ramped up its systematic targeting of minority citizens living in Xinjiang, portraying them as “motherland separatists or simply “terrorists.” People in the region have been deprived of their most basic human rights, including freedom of religion, movement, and the right to communicate in their native language.

State-led persecution has taken different forms: imprisonment — often with heavy sentences of over 10 years  — and incarceration in internment camps, which, according to expert sources, may have at some point contained over a million mostly Muslim minorities.

Given the secrecy of the internment camps, which China insists on presenting as “vocational training centers,” and the lack of information coming from the country's jails, it is impossible to say how many people have died in incarceration, often without knowing what they were accused of. Press reports suggest the figure could be hundreds or possibly thousands. For the relatives of detainees, located both inside and outside China, the pain of knowing nothing about the well-being of their loved ones is relentless and does not lessen as the months and years go past.

Certain foreign countries hosting Uyghur refugees have often decided to bow to China and forcefully repatriate Uyghur people who have simply demonstrated and testified of what happened to them or their family members in China. 

For an overall picture of the 2018–2020 period, check Global Voices’ special coverage below:

For more information, the following sites and resources offer in-depth data, analysis, and news about the situation of Uyghurs worldwide, but also about their rich cultural heritage:

  • Shahit is an invaluable database of several thousand documented cases of Uyghurs and members of other groups living in Xinjiang who have been directly targeted because of their ethnicity. 
  • The World Uyghur Congress, who refers to the Uyghur region as East Turkestan as many Uyghurs do, is an international organization based in Germany  that “represents the collective interest of the Uyghur people both in East Turkistan and abroad.
  • The China Project – Xinjiang offers regular updates on the situation of Uyghurs across the world. 
  • The Uyghur Meshrep Project offers insights into Uyghur music and traditions. 

Today, as the situation remains largely unchanged for Uyghurs inside and outside of China, Global Voices continues its coverage with local and global stories on this large-scale violation of human rights:

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