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Reflecting on 15 Years Since the Urumchi Massacre: A Call for Justice

Reflecting on 15 Years Since the Urumchi Massacre: A Call for Justice
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Op-Ed by World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa, originally published in Investigative Journalism Reportika on July 6. 

Fifteen years have passed since the Urumchi massacre of July 5, 2009, a tragic event that left deep scars on the Uyghur community and brought international attention to the plight of our people. As we reflect on this somber anniversary, it is crucial to acknowledge the enduring impact of the violence and to renew our commitment to justice, human rights, and accountability.

The Urumchi massacre was a culmination of escalating tensions between the Uyghur population and Han Chinese settlers in East Turkistan. What began as a peaceful protest by Uyghur demonstrators, seeking justice for the deaths of two Uyghur factory workers in Guangdong, quickly descended into chaos. The Chinese government’s heavy-handed response, involving mass arrests and violent crackdowns, resulted in the deaths of hundreds and the arrest of thousands. Official figures report 197 fatalities, though Uyghur advocacy groups and independent observers suggest the number could be significantly higher. Following these tragic events, the Chinese government cut off communications channels with the outside world, and blocked internet access for almost a year, making it impossible for information to circulate.

Uyghur editors, journalists, web administrators, professors and students were arrested and sentenced in the following months and years. One of those cases include Gulmire Imin, a web-administrator who was accused of organising the July 5th protests, as well as posting an announcement on Salkin and leaking state secrets. She is currently still in prison, serving a 19-year sentence, in Urumchi.

In the aftermath, the Chinese authorities imposed stringent security measures across East Turkistan, further marginalizing the Uyghur population. Surveillance systems were intensified, and policies aimed at cultural assimilation and genocide, such as restrictions on religious practices and the use of the Uyghur language, were rigorously enforced. Reports of arbitrary detentions, forced labour, and re-education camps have since surfaced, painting a grim picture of the human rights situation in the region.

The Urumchi massacre and the subsequent treatment of Uyghurs are not merely domestic issues; they are matters of international human rights that demand global attention and action. The lack of international accountability on that occasion paved the way for the further crackdown against Uyghurs in the years that followed.

The international community has expressed concern and condemnation, but meaningful action has been limited. Economic and geopolitical considerations often temper responses from global powers. However, the principles of human rights and justice should transcend such interests.

As we mark the 15th anniversary of the Urumchi massacre, it is vital to amplify the voices of those who have suffered and continue to suffer. We must listen to the testimonies of survivors and the families of victims. Their stories are a powerful reminder of the human cost of ethnic violence and repression. The international community, including governments, non-governmental organizations, and human rights advocates, must work together to hold the Chinese government accountable for its actions.

The recent propaganda attempts by the Chinese government to portray a ‘’harmonious’’ life of Uyghurs should not distract the international community from seeking accountability. Real people are still separated from their families, and have disappeared relatives.

In conclusion, the 15th anniversary of the Urumchi massacre is a moment for reflection, remembrance, and renewed resolve. It is a time to honour the memory of those who lost their lives and to stand in solidarity with the Uyghur community in their quest for justice and dignity. The international community must act decisively to ensure that the events of July 5, 2009, are not forgotten.