PRESS RELEASE: WUC Commemorates the 32nd Anniversary of Uyghur Democracy Protests
June 15th, 2020 marks the 32nd anniversary of a wave of democracy protests led by Uyghur students in East Turkistan that complemented democracy protests sweeping across China until the Tiananmen massacre.
On June 15, 1988, Uyghur students in universities across East Turkistan marched and demonstrated for their rights and democracy and were met with violence and intolerance from Chinese authorities. Students organized marches and other forms of civil disobedience to call for an end to the Chinese government’s discrimination of the Uyghur people, repression of Uyghur culture and identity, and failure to give Uyghurs a meaningful voice.
These student-led protests were a pivotal moment in the Uyghur human rights movement that helped to shape the work of the World Uyghur Congress and Uyghur human rights causes around the world. It not only constituted an expression of frustration and dissatisfaction at the CCP’s repression of the Uyghur people, but it also posited a brighter future for all people in East Turkistan. Demonstrators called for a more open, democratic society in East Turkistan that respected the basic rights and freedoms for all people. In response to these reasonable and aspirational demands, the Chinese government used violence and repression to quell peaceful protests.
Although the student democracy protests in East Turkistan were ultimately stamped out by the Chinese government, these demonstrations were the seeds for the future of the Uyghur human rights movements. Student leaders of the democracy protests refused to let the dream of democracy and freedom die. Although most student leaders were forced to flee China and seek refuge abroad, they have continued their work to achieve this goal.
One of the principal leaders of the student demonstrations is the current president of the World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa. Prior to the democracy protests, Mr. Isa had studied physics at Xinjiang University and was not politically active. However, the Chinese government’s horrific treatment of the Uyghur people compelled him to speak up and organize peaceful protests on his campus. For his involvement in the democracy protests, he was expelled from the university and later was forced to flee China, ultimately claiming asylum in Germany. Likewise, prominent Uyghur activist Rushan Abbas also was a leading figure in the democracy protest at Xinjiang University, while majoring in Biology. She is currently the head and founder of Campaign for Uyghurs and has worked tirelessly on the Uyghur human rights cause.
“In 1988, Uyghur students found their voices to call for an end to the Chinese government’s mistreatment and repression of the Uyghur people,” said WUC President Dolkun Isa. “The Chinese government has tried to silence our voices and exile our leaders, but we have never remained silent. Now, more than ever, the Uyghur community must unite and continue to raise our voices, as we did in 1988.”
The demonstrations proved to be a pivotal moment in the lives of Dolkun Isa, Rushan Abbas, and many other Uyghur activists that set them down the path of human rights advocacy. The Chinese government’s heavy-handed response to peaceful Uyghur protests set the tone for the CCP’s treatment of the Uyghur people in the following three decades. Instead of listening to the voices of the Uyghur and their reasonable concerns about discrimination, mistreatment and human rights violations, the Chinese government decided to try and silence them, as they did to pro-democracy protesters throughout China. However, they failed to achieve this and the voices and legacy of the student demonstrators resonate more loudly than ever in the contemporary human rights movement.
On this important day for the Uyghur people, we ask the international community to stand with the Uyghur people in their calls for human rights, freedom, and democracy. For thirty years, those who participated in the Uyghur student democracy protests have kept the dream for a brighter and more free East Turkistan alive. In acknowledging the impact of these demonstrations, we must learn from the past and plan for the future to realize this dream to create a future where Uyghur rights are respected, our voices are heard and our humanity recognized.