Xinjiang’s Communist Party secretary on Monday visited districts in the capital Urumqi in northwestern China where rare protests against severe coronavirus lockdown measures occurred last week.
Local police officers confirmed the demonstrations and authorities punished three Han Chinese men for spreading rumors about the highly contagious respiratory infection.
Ma Xingrui visited districts and counties in Urumqi (in Chinese, Wulumuqi) hit by the recent wave of COVID-19 that struck Xinjiang in early August and impacted by the protests
His visit included the Tianshan, Shayibak, Shuimogou, High-tech Zone, and Midong districts of Urumqi, following last week’s protest, to inspect and investigate epidemic prevention and control measures, community management services, and hospitals, according to a Monday report by state-controlled Xinjiang Daily. He also went to the Xinjiang Medical University next to the Liyushan Road where one protest took place.
Ma emphasized the need to resolutely implement the decisions of the Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council, and to adhere to the overall strategy for epidemic prevention and control.
The article did not mention the protests, though the article mentioned that Ma stressed “strengthen[ing] the management and control of online public opinion” concerning the epidemic and “crack[ing] down on fabrication and spreading rumors in accordance with the law.
Meanwhile, two new videos of public protests appeared on social media over the weekend, though RFA could not independently verify them.
In the videos, the protesters are speaking Mandarin Chinese, not the language spoken by Xinjiang’s indigenous Uyghurs, who face persecution from Chinese authorities in the region.
“Don’t be afraid! You’re right! Today we must lift the lockdown!” the protesters can be heard saying on one of the videos.
Police cite ‘state secrets’
Officers at two Urumqi police stations confirmed to RFA Uyghur that the protest occurred. Two others declined to answer on national security grounds.
Some police officers in Urumqi contacted by RFA declined to provide information due to heightened alert and the sensitivity of the protest, while others cited national security grounds, and two confirmed that the protest occurred.
A police officer at the Urumqi Midong South Road Police Station said the protest didn’t take place in his district. “It took place at Xinshiqu [New Town] district,” he told RFA.
Another officer at the Urumqi Hetan Road Police Station said he didn’t know how many people attended the protest in his area.
“Too many,” he said, adding that the protesters were demonstrating against the COVID-19 lockdown.
When asked about their demands, he said that the police officers would have a meeting soon to learn about the details.
The officer went on to say that he didn’t know how many people were detained for participating in this protest, but that it was illegal.
“Any act that’s against the lockdown is illegal,” he said.
When RFA asked a police officer at the Urumqi Yinchuan Road Police Station if the protest on the Liyushan Road was still happening, he refused to provide information
“This is information on state secrets. We cannot tell you anything,” he said.
Another policeman at the Urumqi Hangzhou Road Police Station also said he could not provide any information on the protest without the approval of the Urumqi Public Security Bureau.
“This is confidential information belonging to state secrets,” he said.
Authorities detain three men
On Nov. 3, the Urumqi Public Security Bureau announced the detainment of the three Chinese for encouraging the public to protest against the COVID lockdown.
Urumqi’s Public Security Bureau issued a notice on Nov. 3 that it has handled many cases of citizens violating epidemic prevention and control regulations, such as the spreading of “rumors” about COVID.
“Those who violate the relevant regulations on epidemic prevention and control will be seriously investigated and dealt with by the public security organs,” the announcement said.
Authorities cited the case of Mou Mouhong, 33, of Tianshan district, who received a 10-day administrative detention penalty for posting comments on a WeChat group on Nov. 1 that incited people to protest, causing a risk of the spread of the virus.
Another Han Chinese, Wang Moubiao, 32 who lives in the city’s Economic and Technological Development Zone, was detained for five days for posting “inflammatory remarks related to the epidemic” on WeChat on Nov. 1.
Authorities also detained Ming Mouqin, 46, who resides in Urumqi’s High-tech Zone, for five days for inciting residents to protest via a WeChat group.
Chinese officials imposed strict lockdowns in Xinjiang in August and September that resulted in some deaths of Uyghurs from starvation and a lack of medicine or medical care. Authorities detained 600 Uyghurs from a village in Ghulja (Yining) in the northern part of Xinjiang after they protested the lockdown.
Prior to the protest, state-run Xinjiang TV had warned residents that they would be arrested for separatism, a charge often used to detain Uyghurs, if they “spread rumors” about a COVID outbreak in the area.
Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the region also have been subjected to severe human rights violations during a years-long crackdown that Beijing has said is part of a broad “anti-terrorism” campaign.
A report issued in late August by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that “the scale of the arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang ‘may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” China denounced the report, which it said was the result of pressure from western governments.
Translated by Alim Seytoff and Shahrezad Ghayrat for RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.