China's Covid-19 lockdown measures and the notorious zero Covid policies have caused hardship across the country. The most severe impact has been reported from among the Uighur population in the Xinjiang region.
According to reports, as many as 22 people died of starvation in the region on one of the days last week. The deaths were reported from the northern Xinjiang city of Ghulja, where harsh Covid lockdown policies have been in place for months, Radio Free Asia reported. Apart from hunger, lack of medical attention has also been cited as a reason for the deaths.
The report says that RFA Uyghur checked with the city officials about the reports of deaths and starvation that surfaced on social media. The city officials and police in Ghulja confirmed that at least 22 deaths took place on a single day on September 15.
The report says: "Asked how many people had starved to death in the city on Thursday last week, a Ghulja municipal told RFA "20," but declined to disclose more information about where in the city the deaths occurred. "There are 20 people who have died of starvation. Don't call again." Another official, from the Ghulja City Municipal Emergency Response Station gave RFA the figure of 22 deaths, but declined to release more information. A third official, from the Ghulja City Police Command Center, rejected accounts from social media that as many as 100 had died on that one day, and put the toll at "about 21 and 22."
Ghulja is a large city with half-million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are living. Tough lockdown measures were enforced on the city in early August.
One of the people who died was the chairman of a village in Ghulj. "They killed my husband Halmutar Ãmerjan, the chairman of Kepekyuzi. Nobody responded to my phone calls," the man's widow said, according to the report.
The woman said her husband had been quarantined for seven days before being shifted to 'an uninhabitable' place and left alone there.
Of nearly 10 million Uighur Muslims in the region, nearly two million are in various forms of imprisonment, mostly held in a vast network of internment camps where Muslims are forced to undergo cultural transformation.
China says the Turkic-speaking native people of the Xinjiang region support terrorism and secessionism. Knife attacks by Uighur rebels were a common feature in the last several years, until Beijing tightened the grip on the region after Xi Jinping became the president.
In 2014, before the internment camps became a reality, China's State Internet Information Office (SIIO) had said that the Uighur rebels were propagating terror videos and jihadi-supporting literature throughout the region. "Terror video and audio products have become a major instigator of the high incidence of terrorist activities at present," the SIIO had said.