The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) commemorates the 33rd anniversary of Uyghur student protests in Urumchi on June 15th, 1988. The wave of democracy protests led by Uyghur students in East Turkistan complemented democracy protests sweeping across China until the Tiananmen massacre. The protests stood as an early reaction to Chinese policies in the 1980s that openly discriminated against Uyghur students in particular, and one of the first large-scale public responses to discriminatory policies against Uyghurs.
The 1988 protests were preceded by large student protests in 1985 that saw around 20,000 Uyghur students take to the streets over discriminatory education policies, birth control policies, the effects of nuclear testing in the Lop Nur region, a lack of genuine autonomy and representation in government and employment opportunities.
‘’During my university years, I started realising that Uyghur students were being heavily discriminated against. The entire system was based on discriminatory policies,’’ said WUC President Dolkun Isa. ‘’In 1988, Uyghur students found the courage and organised themselves to call for an end to the Chinese government’s repression of Uyghurs. Now, the entire Uyghur community is calling for the international community to end the Uyghur genocide.’’
The protest movement was led by current WUC President Dolkun Isa, who had earlier established the Scientific and Cultural Association, which worked to visit Uyghur students around East Turkistan and inform them about the seriousness of disparities in education and other policies. Following the protests, Isa was expelled from the university and was later forced to flee the country in 1994, and ultimately seek asylum in Germany.
Likewise, prominent Uyghur activist and Isa’s classmate, Waris Ababekri. As a co-founder of the Students Cultural Scientist Union at Xinjiang University along with WUC President Dolkun Isa, Ababekri co-organized a June 1988 student protest. Ababekri was reportedly sent to an internment camp beginning of January 2019 and released mid-November. He passed away a week after his release, on 24 November 2019.
Erkin Tursun was another prominent figure during the 1988 protest movement. He later became a reputable TV producer and journalist, who worked for Ili Station for nearly 30 years. On April 21, 2021, it was confirmed that he was serving a 20-year sentence for ”inciting ethnic hatred, discrimination and covering up crimes”, according to Beijing authorities.
The demonstrations proved to be a pivotal moment in the lives of Dolkun Isa, Waris Ababekri and many other Uyghur activists that set them down the path of human rights advocacy. Much of what Uyghurs witnessed during and after these protests can be seen as the start of a renewed campaign by the Chinese government to gradually erode the very identity and collective energy of the Uyghur people. What began as policies designed to gently assimilate has led to what we see today: a genocide.
Although the student democracy protests in East Turkistan were ultimately stamped out by the Chinese government, these demonstrations were the seeds for the future of Uyghur human rights movements. Student leaders of the democracy protests refused to let the dream of democracy and freedom die. Although most student leaders were forced to flee China and seek refuge abroad, they have continued their work to achieve this goal.
On this important commemorative day for the Uyghur people, we ask the international community to stand with the Uyghur people in their calls for human rights, freedom, and democracy. In acknowledging the impact of these demonstrations, we must learn from the past and plan for the future to realize this dream to create a future where Uyghur rights are respected, our voices are heard and our humanity recognized.
The WUC reiterates the need for coordinated, urgent and concrete action. Our world leaders must match their words with actions, as the humanitarian crisis in East Turkistan continues to deteriorate every day.

235 people read this News!
Leave a comment
There are 0 comment.