As lockdown begins to ease in Britain, demonstrations outside the Chinese Embassy in London started again. Bitter Winter was there, too.
by Ruth Ingram
It was a rare sunny April day in London. Lockdown was beginning to ease, and demonstrations given the green light. Under a bright blue sky, a lone Chinese embassy official was on his hands and knees trying to scrub “CHINA GET OUT OF IRAN” from their front steps. “No photo,” he begged in broken English. He meant no photo of him. It took two of them an hour to erase the offending words from the entrance as crowds gathered on the opposite side of the road to protest Beijing’s violation of its own country.
Uyghurs, Jews, Christians, Labour Party and Hong Kong activists, Falun Gong supporters, students and passersby assembled for the first time after several months of lockdown to remind CCP officials barricaded into their posh fortress in London’s upmarket Portland Place, of the atrocities on their own doorstep. Shouting “China, China, do you hear us?” the wall of silence from behind the new set of barricades in front of number 49 was deafening.
Organized by the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign to challenge the round ups and incarcerations in North West China, plead with the UK government to expedite refugee status for Turkic people fleeing persecution, and commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Baren massacre when troops opened fire on villagers who had stood up to forced abortions and draconian birth control policies on April 5th 1990, myriad supporters of the Uyghur cause assembled.
A large contingent of Uyghur exiles gathered whose families in their homeland have fallen silent and who spend their days waiting in vain for news. Dilnaz, whose story was featured last September in Bitter Winter, and her family arrived en masse as her father still reels from the incarceration of an entire swathe of his extended family. A new arrival in the UK, a mother and her four children under six, whose husband works abroad, sinks under the weight of sadness and grief as she can only wonder at the fate of her relatives while she has been scattered to the four winds from their lives.
The stories are many and the heartache immeasurable. “My family has left Xinjiang,” said one exile. “But how can I rest while all my friends despair?” The others say they are barely surviving. One man tells of the “burning torment” in his spirit. “I feel as if I am on fire, with the anguish and sorrow I carry for my family,” he said. An only child, he aches with his strong sense of responsibility for his elderly mother who must spend her final years without him by her side.
Speakers this month included Andrew, the famed “Lonely Jew” whose solitary two-year protest in Hampstead has accompanied a growing movement of Jewry around the world proclaiming “never again” on behalf of the Uyghurs.
“You are all heroes today, each one of you,” he cried. “Because each one of you is standing up to the world’s biggest power.” Undeterred by government rules forbidding protests of more than two people, he has been battering another giant. Two or three times a week he and a friend have stood outside a Volkswagen garage on the busy North Circular Road in North London with a placard, as “tens of thousands” passed by during rush hour. “I would like you all to know the huge level of public support; the honks, the waves, the thumbs up, from motorist, after motorist after motorist, who applaud what we are doing and have taken the message,” he shouted jubilantly.
He reminded the protesters, the Uyghur families whose relatives have disappeared or become silent, that the world is listening to their plight. “There is knowledge in the general public of what we’re asking,” he said. “For the concentration camps to be closed. And the slave labor to be stopped.” “People know and people are talking about it and when enough common people like all of us and everybody in the country and in the countries around the world start talking about this then it will stop because China cares about face.”
As a Jew whose family was affected by the Holocaust, he knew that Nazi Germany had been indifferent to world opinion. “They didn’t care but the Chinese government does care, and they do not want to be the pariah of the world,” he said. “And they are turning into the pariah of the world.” He urged the crowd that President Xi Jinping could stop the horrors of Xinjiang. “When there’s enough pressure he may stop it,” he hoped.
He encouraged those gathered not to give up. A Leipzig group would be protesting in a couple of weeks and news was in that Uyghurs in Turkey were meeting to remember the Baren dead in Istanbul. The world was beginning to wake up and take notice.
The crowd dispersed. The red stain at the steps of the embassy had been replaced by a puddle of disinfectant and soap, and the embarrassed official nowhere to be seen. All that was left were a van load of police and the brand-new barricades to protect the CCP officials who might or might not have registered the protest.
One thing is for sure. Andrew and the crowds will be back again next month. To remember the fallen and those yet to fall far away in their native land.