The Ürümqi Massacre Echoes in the Suffering of the Uyghur People

The Ürümqi Massacre of July 5th, 2009 marked the horrific initiation of a genocidal nightmare that continues to haunt the Uyghur people. As an impassioned Uyghur activist who bore witness to the Shaoguan massacre off a video on my friend’s Nokia phone, just days before, my heart bled and still bleeds with the intensity of a thousand wounds. I implore the world to grasp the full magnitude of this atrocity and recognize it as a chilling prelude to the ongoing Uyghur genocide—a cataclysmic testament to the depths of human cruelty.

14 years ago, sitting in my friend’s Sydney apartment, the blurry footage that circulated virally revealing the gruesome scenes of the Shaoguan massacre was engraved in my mind. Young Uyghur workers, ripped from their homes in Konasheher County and forcibly transferred to Shaoguan City, faced an unspeakable fate. In the dead of night, they were mercilessly beaten and slaughtered at the dorms of the Xuri toy factory, where around 800 Uyghurs were housed, by a bloodthirsty horde of Chinese workers armed with a savage array of knives, axes, clubs, machetes, and metal rods. The viral images and videos that flooded Chinese social media exposed the depths of this depravity. We could hear the perverse pleasure in the voices of those recording the carnage, tauntingly exclaiming, “Look, there is one (Uyghur) over there! Another (Uyghur) hiding here!”

This wanton violence spared no one, as young Uyghur women were brutally beaten to death alongside their brothers. The most chilling aspect was the glaring absence of authorities, turning a blind eye to the unfolding horror. From dusk until the early hours of the morning, no police or government representatives arrived to protect the innocent or quell the bloodshed. The Chinese regime, ever eager to cover up its complicity, disseminated conflicting death tolls, attempting to downplay the magnitude of the massacre. The anguish and testimonies of survivors painted a far grimmer reality than the official narrative dared to admit. Habibullah Izchi, author of the book Blue Stone Archives: 5th July Massacre and a student studying in inner-China while the massacre took place, observed that multiple credible eye-witness accounts had reported a staggering death toll of at least 40-50 Uyghurs that fateful night. Even certain Chinese websites such as ‘Sina’, ‘Tengshun’, and ‘Boxun’ acknowledged that 12 Uyghurs lost their lives. However, the Chinese government’s official stance contradicts these alarming numbers, claiming a mere two Uyghur fatalities, specifically Hashimjan Emet and Sadiqjan Ghazi from Kashgar’s Toquzaq township. Additionally, according to the authorities, approximately 80 Uyghurs suffered only mild injuries.

In East Turkistan, Uyghurs refused to accept the Chinese regime’s fabricated story that a man named “Zhu” had instigated the violence with false allegations of sexual assault by Uyghur co-workers. Calls for justice and government accountability reverberated through the online platforms of ‘Uyghur Biz,’ ‘Selkin,’ and ‘Diyarim,’ especially on the social media platform QQ. It was on July 5th, 2009, that the flame of resistance ignited, with over 300 Uyghur university students descending upon the streets of Ürümqi, their chants for peace and justice reverberating through the air. Gathering at the People’s Square, they demanded answers from the government, exposing the injustice inflicted upon their fallen brethren.

As their numbers swelled into the thousands, hope flickered amidst the shadows of grief. But the Chinese authorities responded with a malevolence that defies comprehension. Streets once filled with peaceful protesters transformed into battlegrounds, as police, the People’s Liberation Army, and plain-clothed agents descended upon the Uyghur youth. Among the protestors, planted spies and officers deliberately incited chaos, diverting the peaceful demonstration toward rioting and looting. This pretext provided the authorities with ample justification to unleash a torrent of violence upon the innocent. Uyghur abductions, beatings, and secret executions persisted through the night, leaving the streets awash with the blood of our brothers and sisters.

In the following 24-48 hours, Wang Lequan, the then Communist Party Secretary of the Xinjiang government, fervently instigated the Chinese populace to unleash a vengeful onslaught. On the fateful day of July 7th, 2009, an alarming horde of enraged Han-Chinese, bolstered by plain-clothed police and army officers brandishing menacing clubs, bars, knives, and machetes mercilessly descended upon the Uyghurs in Ürümqi, leaving a trail of destruction as Uyghur businesses were engulfed in flames.

The true extent of the casualties remains shrouded in the Chinese regime’s web of deception. Their penchant for hiding and distorting numbers renders it nearly impossible to ascertain the full scale of the Uyghur lives lost on July 5th and the subsequent July 7th retaliatory attacks. However, testimonies and fragments of truth that emerged hint at a staggering toll, reaching into the thousands—a grim testament to the regime’s capacity for unspeakable cruelty.

In the aftermath, the Chinese regime blocked the internet throughout East Turkistan, rendering communication with the outside world almost impossible for about a year, severing a vital lifeline between loved ones and isolating Uyghurs from the world’s gaze. Yet, as the years passed and the grip of oppression tightened, in 2017, the Uyghur genocide emerged as a chilling extension of our torment. Under the reign of Xi Jinping, the Chinese government’s iron fist clenched tighter, leaving no room for escape from persecution. The July 5th massacre stands as a haunting prelude to the horrors that unfolded, a chilling proof that our cries for justice were met with intensified repression. Today, we find ourselves at a precipice, with the weight of history bearing down upon us. We cannot turn away, nor can we remain silent. The suffering of the Uyghur people demands our unwavering attention, our collective outrage, and our unyielding commitment to justice. Let the world be awakened to the atrocities committed against us. Together, we will unravel this genocidal nightmare, revealing the stark truth and restoring the Uyghur people’s dignity—a future free from oppression and the haunting echoes of the Ürümqi Massacre.

Arslan Hidayat is the Program Director for Campaign for Uyghurs. He is a Uyghur born in exile, an activist, and an advocate of Uyghur rights.