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Viral Tweet Sparks Protest in London Against China's Abuse of Uyghur Muslims

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Chinese embassy on Friday to condemn the persecution of Uyghur people in Xinjiang.
11 September 2020, 5:15pm
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Around 80 or so demonstrators protested the persecution of Uyghur Muslims outside the Chinese embassy in Marylebone, London on Friday, spurred on by a viral tweet from a recent graduate.

Sade Sawyers says she was moved to organise the impromptu protest after seeing a video about the million or so Uyghurs who are imprisoned in concentration camps in Xinjiang, China. Her call to arms post eventually gained over 30,000 retweets. 

She told VICE UK she was surprised at how quickly news of her protest plans spread, given her relatively small Twitter following. “I literally messaged one mate on Instagram and said, ‘Hey, have you heard about this? This is disgusting. I think I want to do a protest.’ The tweet just kind of blew up from then on and those people started retweeting it… I only had like 30 followers last week!”  

She added: “I knew nothing about this until a week ago, which was shocking because this has been going on for years. And, you know, my motto is, if you want to do something, if you feel like there's an issue, you should go out and do [something about] it.”

VICE UK spoke to protestors who joined Sawyers on the pavement outside the Chinese Embassy on Friday morning.

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RUHANA, 22, GRADUATE

Why are you here today?
I’m here to protest against the detention camps that the Uyghurs are being kept in.  It’s being facaded as “re-education centres” when actually their culture is being stripped away and they’re being brainwashed into adopting Han Chinese cultures. Nobody is talking about it. There isn’t much awareness of it so I’m here today to raise awareness about it.

What do you think our own government should do?
Our government should address this issue and force the Chinese government to take action and stop the detention centres.

What would you like to say to someone who is learning about this situation for the first time?
Do your research and find out about what’s been happening. There’s been reports that it’s been happening since 2014. I urge people to look for protests and join then, supporting movements online that are raising awareness for Uyghur rights.

As a British Muslim, how does this situation impact you?
I am Muslim but I don’t think of this as a Muslim issue. It’s a matter of genocide, it’s a human issue and we should think of this morally.  It’s a moral issue, not a Muslim issue.

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LAURA, 21, STUDENT

What do you think the British government should do?
First of all, nobody knows about this so there needs to be more access for people to understand what’s been going on. There needs to be more organisation of protests, more voices, more media coverage. There’s just silence and nobody knows about it.

When did you first learn about the treatment of Uyghurs in China?
I heard about it a few weeks ago. But I feel like so many people have been so caught up in the recent pandemic that everybody feels [...] that whatever is going on with us is more important. But [then] you realise that wearing a mask on the street to the pub is really not one of the worst things to happen when there are being people who are persecuted for their religious beliefs and dying because of them.

What would you say to someone who is learning about this situation for the first time?
It’s really important to educate yourself with the right sources because there is a lot of miseducation. People should makes sure they’re getting it from the right sources and listen to activists because they usually have the best information. Just show up, use social media and voice it in person.

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MUSTAFA, 21, STUDENT

Why are you here today?
I’m here to support the Uyghur people, to raise awareness about their plight and the fact that they’re currently being ethnically cleansed by the Chinese government and make sure that people know about this. 

When did you first learn about the treatment of Uyghur people?
I first heard about this about a year or two ago. We started having lectures about Uyghur rights at university. Since then I think their situation has become a lot worse, and now personally I’m trying to take action and raise more awareness myself.

What do you think our government should do about this?
I understand their reluctance to sanction China because obviously we are quite reliant on them, but that’s a problem in itself. I think we need to figure out a way to sanction China and ensure morally they are acting in a better way.

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SACHA, 40, UYGHUR SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN ACTIVIST

Why are you here today?
The basic thing is: it’s an enormous injustice. Out of all the horrendous injustices right now in the world, it’s probably one of the worst that is happening and yet there’s relatively little protest about it. 

The wider thing is that I think there’s an issue on the left – for instance within the trade union movement – [of] a sort of selective consciousness about repression and exploitation. For example, if something is done by a Western power, it’s seen as a big problem, but if something is done by China, it’s not seen as such a problem.

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[cont.] Beyond the very immediate urgent pressing thing of showing solidarity with people who are suffering horrendous oppression, I think there’s a further question about renovating the left so that it is actually consistent in its approach. If we support struggles against oppression in Trump’s America, why don’t we support the same that’s happening in China?

Our organisation was set up to organise the campaigning and support for the Uyghur people in Britain [and] to raise consciousness and activity. We have an opportunity to utilise the trade union movement and their power. If you think about the companies that are using and benefitting from forced Uyghur labour.... If the trade union movement internationally mobilised round this cause, with its tens of millions of members, we could actually make a difference very quickly.  

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OMER, 20, STUDENT

Why are you here today?
I’m here to protest in the hopes that we’ll bring about a movement where we can provoke change. I don’t know how we’re going to stop this, honestly, but we’re hoping that somehow we can slowly start sending shockwaves around the world and provide hope that attention can be bought to this issue.  I think a lot of people just don’t know what’s going on.  

What would you like to say to someone who is learning about this situation for the first time?
Don’t stay silent. First learn about everything they’re doing, the torture, the rape and murder, the injustice [...] This is a genocide now. I don’t understand why there’s not more awareness than there is. Although this is a good turnout, I think there should be a lot more people here today.  

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SALIA, 18, STUDENT

Why are you here today?

I’m here because this is a crisis. This is so shocking and it’s not even being covered on the news properly. It leaves me speechless. We’re in 2020, the 21st century and this shouldn’t be happening. The fact that other world leaders and the United Nations are hardly even debating this shows that people need to put pressure on ourselves. We need to call the British government to intervene because [this] shouldn’t be happening.

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