In the 14 years since this date, CCP policies towards Uyghurs have morphed from systemic repression and discrimination, to total assimilation and demographic genocide. The effects of this atrocity have remained with the Uyghur people, as hundreds of students and protestors were killed or disappeared into Chinese custody, never to be heard from again. Their families still do not have any information about the fate of their loved ones.
The peaceful protest in 2009 began with several thousand Uyghurs — mostly students marching towards the People’s square in central Urumqi at around 5:00 pm on July 5. They expressed their anger at the Chinese government’s handling of Shaoguan incident in which several Uyghurs were killed by Chinese factory workers in a dispute. Chinese police failed to protect the Uyghur workers, letting them be killed by the mob. The complete disregard for Uyghur lives and regular discimrination and repression imposed on the Uyghur people by the Chinese government resulted in mass, initially peaceful protests in Urumqi as Uyghurs demanded to be treated equally and for their rights and freedoms to be respected.
As the protests began, hundreds of Chinese police with shields, rifles, and clubs were already in position and moved to disperse and arrest the protesters before they reached the People’s Square, indicating that the government had full knowledge of the protest beforehand and was well prepared to suppress it. The heavy handed response resulted in unrest among the protesters, escalating the situation. This resulted in a further brutal crackdown from the Chinese authorities against the protesters.
The regional government quickly instituted a communications blackout that lasted for months following the incidents that prevented the flow of information in and out of the area through the complete restriction on the internet and mobile phone use. These tactics have since been used frequently in an attempt to tightly control who is able to gain access to information, amid a general lack of access to independent media that persists year round.
Reports from Amnesty International and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, who both conducted interviews with eyewitnesses to the events, concluded that the security forces made liberal use of live ammunition during the unrest. Along with those that were killed and injured in the incident, a considerable number of arrests were also made shortly afterward. Witness testimony indicates that Chinese police went door to door, disappearing young Uyghur men alleged to have been involved in the protests. In a report released by Human Rights Watch, it was estimated that there were 43 verifiable cases of enforced disappearances of Uyghur prisoners arrested in the aftermath – a number that is likely much higher in reality. However, the Chinese government was never subjected to any punitive action by the international states nor subjected to any independent investigation into this atrocity. The lack of justice and accountability has enabled the Chinese government to get away with this massacre.
As was the case after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the international community failed to hold China accountable for killing, disappearing and brutalising those who demonstrated against repression. The failure to hold China accountable for its numerous atrocities has emboldened the Chinese government to take increasingly inhuman and repressive measures, resulting in the current situation where millions of Uyghurs are being detained in internment camps and forced labour facilities and the Uyghur people are currently facing a demographic genocide through mass sterilization and population control measures.
In the last 30 years, the international community has let down the people living under CCP control and are continuing to fall short. The implementation of the CCP’s National Security Law in Hong Kong is marking a similar turning point and failure of the international community to hold the Chinese government accountable. Hundreds of courageous Hong Kong protesters have now been arrested for calling for their autonomy and basic rights and freedoms to be respected. There have been a series of atrocities that should have necessitated a meaningful intervention from the international community. The failure to act in each of these instances saw the respective communities quickly lose their remaining rights and be forced to endure increasingly horrific atrocities in subsequent years.
“The July 5th massacre in Urumqi in 2009 stands as the moment where the Chinese government changed its policies towards Uyghurs from repression and discrimination to total assimilation and now demographic genocide,” said WUC President Dolkun Isa. “The Chinese government has been systematically destroying any dissenting voices calling for democracy and human rights over the past 30 years: the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the quashing of Tibetan protesters in 2008, the Urumqi Massacre in 2009 and the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong in 2020. We are deeply concerned that the people of Hong Kong could suffer a similar fate to the Uyghur people after the Urumqi massacre in 2009. We therefore call on the international community to reverse this legacy of silence and inaction and use the July 5th anniversary to finally hold the Chinese government accountable for its numerous crimes against humanity. We urge leaders and policy makers to find the courage and resolve to take concrete action. The legacy of the Urumqi massacre in 2009 shows what can happen if the world fails to act.”