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Uyghurs in exile mark anniversary of deadly 2009 Urumqi unrest

Uyghur exile groups around the world on Tuesday demanded that China end its persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in a series of protests marking the 13th anniversary of deadly ethnic violence in the region’s capital.

Uyghurs demonstrated in the capital cities of European Union countries, Turkey, Australia, Japan, and Canada, and in New York and Washington, D.C., to commemorate the crackdown in Urumqi, which became a catalyst for the Chinese government’s efforts to repress Uyghur culture, language and religion through a mass surveillance and internment campaign.

“We gathered here to commemorate the massacre that occurred on July 5 in Urumqi and to remember the ongoing genocide taking place in East Turkestan today,” said Hidayetulla Oghuzhan, chairman of East Turkestan Organizational Alliance in Istanbul, using Uyghurs’ preferred name for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

“We call upon the international community to not to remain silent and to take action against this genocide,” he said.

In Paris, one protester told RFA that he lost many of his friends in the July 5 clash and that remembering that day was very important for him.

Smaller demonstrations were held in other cities.

About 15 members of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association protested outside a mall in Adelaide to mark the anniversary of the massacre and demand that the Australian government ban the importation of goods made with Uyghur forced labor in the XUAR, according to India’s The Print online news service.

Muslims in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka and in Narayanganj district, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) southeast of the city, also staged protests against the Chinese government’s oppression of Uyghurs, according to the same news source.

About 200 people died and 1,700 were injured in three days of violence between ethnic minority Uyghurs and Han Chinese that began on July 5, 2009, in Xinjiang’s largest city, Urumqi (in Chinese, Wulumuqi), according to China’s official figures. Uyghur rights groups say the numbers of dead and injured were much higher, however.

The unrest was set off by a clash between Uyghur and Han Chinese toy factory workers in southern China’s Guangdong province in late June that year that left two Uyghurs dead. News of the deaths reached Uyghurs in Urumqi, sparking a peaceful protest the spiraled into beatings and killings of Chinese, with deaths occurring on both sides. Chinese mobs later staged revenge attacks on Uyghurs in the city’s streets with sticks and metal bars.

‘We mourn the past’

Dolkun Isa, president of Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), called July 5 a day of mourning.

“We have to remember that day,” he told RFA on Tuesday. “That day is the turning point in from China’s ethnic segregation and discrimination policy to the beginning of the genocidal ethnic policy. 2009 is the starting point of the ongoing ethnic genocide since 2016.”

In late 2016 and 2017, authorities ramped up their clampdown on Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the XUAR through abductions and arbitrary arrests and detentions in what China called “re-education” camps or prisons.

An estimated 1.8 million members of these groups have been held in internment camps, where detainees who were later freed reported widespread maltreatment, including severe human rights abuses, torture, rape and forced labor.

The U.S. and the parliaments of the EU have said the repression of Uyghurs in the XUAR is a genocide and crime against humanity.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), based in Washington D.C., demanded the protection of Uyghur refugees and asylum seekers residing abroad.

“Saving Uyghur refugees is the least that the world can do for Uyghurs, as we experience the 6th year of an ongoing genocide,” UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat said in a statement. “It is urgent that all countries recognize the threat posed to Uyghurs abroad, and develop their own resettlement programs on an emergency basis.”

Because China has sought the forcible return of some Uyghurs living abroad, UHRP said governments should immediately implement resettlement programs for those at risk of refoulement — forcing refugees to return to a country where they will likely face persecution.

UHRP called on the U.S. Congress to pass the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act, which would make Uyghurs and other persecuted Turkic peoples eligible for priority refugee processing by the U.N., designating them as “Priority 2” refugees of special humanitarian concern.

The Washington, D.C-based Campaign for Uyghurs said the Urumqi Massacre was a reminder of the brutality of the Chinese government and the loss that Uyghurs have experienced in their fight for equality.

“The world no longer believes China’s whitewashed tales stating the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is innocent and a victim in the Urumqi massacre,” Rushan Abbas, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “While we mourn the past, we continue to fight for the living, fight for the future of this free and democratic world. Justice is on our side reclaiming this correct history.”

“We labor ensuring those who perished in 2009 will not have sacrificed their lives in vain,” she said. “With courage and hard work, justice shall prevail.”

Translated by Mamatjan Juma for RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.