“We are Dying”: Desperate Messages from Uyghurs Facing Starvation and Death Under Zero COVID Lockdowns


September 9, 2022 | 4:00 p.m. EDT
For Immediate Release
Contact: Omer Kanat +1 (202) 790-1795, Zubayra Shamseden +1 (571) 535-0639

Members of the Uyghur diaspora around the world are stunned and heartbroken as they view dozens of messages from East Turkistan, especially from Ghulja, expressing mounting desperation amid Zero COVID lockdowns.

Food is not being delivered to Uyghur households, according to multiple text and video messages from Ghulja, amid a month-long lockdown. Several messages report deaths due to starvation.

In one message, a 16-year-old cries as she says that she is locked in an apartment alone, saying she is in extreme pain and saying “I’m dying,” while calling out for her mother. Other people describe not being allowed out, to get vital medicine or for medical emergencies. One mother recorded a video showing her children, saying they have a high fever, and that she is unable to leave her house to take them to the hospital. She says that the neighborhood officials have not responded to her calls for medical help. She says she is afraid her children will die. 

“We need to raise the alarm about the brutal lockdown of Uyghurs in Ghulja and other places throughout East Turkistan,” said UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat. “Uyghurs know that they risk detention and torture if they criticize government policy. If they are sending out messages like this, it means the situation is completely unbearable, and they feel they are about to die, so they take the risk.”

UHRP has reviewed dozens of video and text messages, in Uyghur and in Chinese. While unable to verify the origins or authenticity of each message, UHRP judges them to reflect a real crisis, given the sheer variety of individuals talking about their own situation; the authentic local and regional accents in voiced Uyghur-language videos; and the unproduced and unstaged nature of the posts, using a variety of expressions and footage.

“The videos are heartbreaking,” said Uyghur American Association President Elfidar Iltebir. “If these videos are able to make it out here before the censors take them down, imagine how much worse it is than people know. What is happening in the camps and prisons that we are unable to see?”

Two years ago, UHRP conducted a detailed authentication of videos posted online showing Uyghurs’ desperation during the first lockdowns in East Turkistan, in a briefing issued February 2020, Local Residents in Danger of Starving in East Turkistan. One Uyghur man knocks his head against a post, crying out to officials who are filming him. “I’m starving. I’m starving. My wife and children are starving. Three people are starving in my house. Do you want to kill me? Just kill me then,” he says in Uyghur, in a video posted online by an unknown source. 

See the full set of authenticated 2020 videos below: