Another tragic disaster occurred in Xinjiang as dozens, maybe hundreds, of Uighurs died in a fire on Friday.
The Chinese authorities showed no mercy. No officer broke into the building or broke the locks for hours after the fire started roaring out of control. The official reason was that the road leading to the building was narrow and parked vehicles blocked the way. It took three hours until firefighters started to extinguish the fire, despite having arrived at the scene within five minutes.
Where were the skills and courage of Chinese police who had previously stormed into buildings and dragged suspects from their beds into the street during the July 5, 2009, Urumqi Incident? The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Special Operations Forces can clear an area within five minutes, but they need three hours to extinguish a fire?
Presumably, they did not want to save the residents because they were Uighurs. Those who were crying and begging did not speak Chinese. Perhaps the residents were even afraid of being rescued, knowing that the firefighters were waiting for orders from higher authorities in Beijing to take action amid China’s lockdown policy. Women and children in the building wept until the order to break the locks came.
This is not the saddest tragedy that Uighurs are facing, although it is the most obvious one, and China is unable to hide it. We have heard of even more tragic scenes in prisons, camps and starving communities over the past three months in areas that are locked down.
However, China is ignoring the facts and hiding them by restricting news coverage.
The Chinese government in a news release put forth numerous lies, including statements from residents of the burning building who never left their homes.
In the statement, circulated on the Internet, Chinese officials said: “This was a light COVID-19 area, and the residents were able to leave the building.”
This lie is a clear indication of the falsehood of the information that only 10 people died and only nine were injured.
According to the information we received, at least 40 people died and more than 60 people were injured. Three floors of the building burned out, and the other four floors were filled with smoke. The fire lasted hours. It is clear that not just the 19 people mentioned in the official account were affected.
While one of the victims, a woman named Qembernisa, burned to death with her three children, her husband and eldest son, sentenced to jail terms of 10 and 12 years respectively, were not with them. Her five-year-old daughter was born while her father was in prison. She had been counting the months and years until she would be able to see her father and older brother.
The Chinese government should immediately disclose the list of victims and provide an accurate account on the number of dead and injured, take responsibility for the disaster, and publicly apologize to the victims’ families. We know that the Chinese authorities, which are committing genocide in our homeland, will not take responsibility for this on their own, so we call on the international community to demand an independent investigation to determine the facts and to appropriately punish China.
We would like to express our gratitude to the Turkish government for calling on China to report the details of the incident and requesting that other countries, such as the US, the UK, France, Germany, Japan and India not turn a blind eye to this tragedy, which was caused by China’s “zero COVID-19” policy.
Rebiya Kadeer is a former president of the World Uyghur Congress. Kok Bayraq is a Uighur-American observer.
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