Hundreds Die In Urumqi. Does The World Care?

-Ugyhur Icon-According to the latest news reports from Urumqi, a far-flung city in western China, “calm” had returned to the streets as the death toll from Sunday’s protests hit 156, with 800 injured, and 1,434 protestors detained. Officials say most of the dead were Han Chinese, while Uyghur groups report that 90% of those killed were Uyghurs. Though reports about the ethnic background of those killed and accounts of the protest may vary, one thing is clear. The Chinese government has responded by blocking the internet and twitter, enforcing curfews, and rounding up protestors in an effort to stop future unrest. Meanwhile, wall posts from Uyghurs, around the world are spreading across facebook.

One site “Worldwide Protest in Honor and Support of Uighurs Dying for Freedom,” called on “ALL THE UIGHURS IN THE WORLD to unite and stage a MASSIVE WORLDWIDE PROTEST.” The site, which is written in both English and Uyghur, has already generated feedback. New York resident and Uyghur activist, Kermaletting Uyger’s, plans to attend tomorrows protest in Washington D.C. Upon hearing of Sunday’s crack down in Urumqi, Kermaletting posted “Democracy is Dead,” on his facebook profile. Keke Rouzi, one of the organizers of tomorrow’s protest said in an email that “people in Urumqi were communicating via the internet, phone, and other means of communication, but the internet in Urumqi has now been cut by Chinese forces.” The rhetoric at Fubar, Urumqi’s most popular expatriate hangout, transformed from comments about free beer and Michael Jackson’s plastic surgery, to this post from a concerned friend, who uses the screen name, Dave Sgonechina “Been trying to call, but the phones are dead. Keep your heads down fellas.”

The facebook profile picture of Uyghur activists, Kekenus Sidik, shows the slashed back of a man who we presume was killed in Sunday’s protests. But we have seen scenes like this before. In June, millions of YouTube viewers witnessed the gruesome death of Neda, a 27 year-old Iranian woman. Iran’s state-run media papers reported that 20 Iranian protestors were killed in June’s political unrest and over 1,000 arrested. Nearly nine times that many (Uyghur and Han Chinese) were killed in just one day of protesting in Urumqi. If asked both Iranian and Uyghur protesters would say they were standing up for justice, freedom, and their desire to have a better life. But is the plight of the Uygurs too far removed from our daily lives for us to care?

We are just two days into one of the biggest protests held in China in decades. What do you think will happen next? Do you think we will see images and videos like we saw in Iran emerge from Urumqi?

Moreover, in the days ahead, how will the Chinese government, which rivals Iran, for having one of the strictest censorships in the world, respond to the use of facebook and twitter as tools to spread news? Though, there is virtually no chance the Uygurs will get the autonomy they desire from China, will they at least be able to use social media as a platform for their voices to be heard?

We have contacted several Uygurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi and will let you know when we hear from them. In the meantime, we would like to hear from you.