Residents of a city in the remote Xinjiang region of western China say they have run out of food after more than 40 days of strict lockdown by the coronavirus.
In posts shared on Chinese social media, as well as platforms including TikTok and Twitter, residents of Ghulja show empty refrigerators and hungry children. Others tearfully recounted their experiences during the lockdown that began in early August.
China remains committed ‘zero COVID’ policylock entire communities in their homes for long periods of time – with food supplies delivered – and require them to undergo regular inspection.
The Ghulja strike also led to accusations that predominantly Muslim Uighurs, the Turkic ethnic group with roots in Xinjiang, are being targeted.
China has been accused of running a regional network of detention centers and prisons and keep about a million Uighurs and other largely Muslim minorities in a system that the United Nations says could constitute “crimes against humanity“. Beijing has argued that the camps are vocational skills training center needed to tackle “extremism”.
An earlier crackdown in Xinjiang was particularly difficult, with drug coercion, arrests and people being exterminated with disinfectants.
Yasinuf, a Uighur who is studying at a university in Europe, said his mother-in-law sent a frightened voice message last weekend saying she was forced into concentrated isolation because of a mild cough. . The officers who came to pick her up, she said, reminded her of the time her husband had been incarcerated for more than two years.
“It’s judgment day,” she sighed in an audio recording reviewed by the Associated Press. “We don’t know what will happen this time. All we can do now is trust our creators. “
Yasinuf said his parents told him they were running out of food, despite having stocked up before locking the door. With no delivery man, and banned from using their backyard oven for fear of spreading the virus, his parents survived on uncooked dough made from flour, water and salt. Yasinuf declined to give his last name for fear of retaliation by his relatives.
He said that he has not been able to study or sleep in recent days, thinking about his relatives in Ghulja.
“Their voices are always in my head, saying things like I’m hungry, please help us,” he said. “This is the 21st century, this is unthinkable.”
Nyrola Elima, a Uighur in Ghulja, says her father is dividing their dwindling tomato supply, sharing one a day with her 93-year-old grandmother. She said her aunt is panicking because she lacks milk to feed her 2-year-old grandchild.
‘Defects and Defects’
Last week, the local governor apologized at a news conference for “shortcomings and defects” in the government’s response to the coronavirus, including “blind spots and omissions”, and promised to improve benevolent.
But even as the authorities acknowledged the complaints, the censors worked to silence them. The post has been removed from Chinese social media. Some videos have been deleted and re-posted dozens of times as netizens battled online censors.
Many in the area told the AP that the online posts reflected the dire nature of the lockdown, but declined to detail their situation, saying they feared the consequences.
On Sunday, police said they had arrested four internet users, accusing them of spreading rumors about the COVID-19 outbreak.
The four were ordered to administrative detention for five to 10 days at Yining, whose Chinese name is Ghulja, according to a report in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. It said police did not disclose the ethnicities of those arrested, but they all had names indicating they were Han Chinese.
“[The detainees] spreading rumors online, inciting outrage, disrupting the order of anti-pandemic measures, [which] lead to negative social consequences,” police said.
More than 600 people were detained Monday in a village in Ghulja after they defied closures to protest food shortages, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). Protesters say some people have died.
“We go for the deaths, otherwise we would have been silent,” one protester said in a video posted on social media, according to RFA.
The AP said leaked directives from government offices showed workers were ordered to avoid negative information and spread “positive energy”. One directed state media to film “smiling seniors” and “joyful kids” in neighborhoods that emerged after the shutdown.
“Those who inflate maliciously, spread false rumors and make unreasonable accusations should be dealt with according to the law,” another notice warned.
The AP cannot independently verify the messages. China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Conditions have begun to improve for some. One resident, contacted by phone, said food deliveries have resumed after being shut down for several weeks. Residents of her property are now allowed to walk in their yard a few hours a day.
“The situation is slowly improving, it has gotten a lot better,” she said.
Authorities ordered mass inspections and lockdowns of districts in cities across China this year, with millions in Shanghai, the country’s largest city, having suffered for weeks during the lockdown that began in April and led to get angry and complain.
More recently, Sanya tropical resort islandthe southwestern city of Chengdu and the northern port city of Dalian were affected, along with China try to control the spread of the virus ahead of next month’s key party congress.