Editor’s Note: Some demonstrators gave fake names in order to protect their families from retaliation by the Chinese government. This threat is not unprecedented, with a Purdue University student’s family being warned by the Chinese government in 2020.
Over 70 people braved the cold rain Friday night at the Sample Gates for a vigil honoring the victims of a fire in China and protesting the country’s zero COVID policy.
“I think it’s really important to prevent these human rights violations,” a demonstrator named Desmond said. “I see a lot of problems like child poverty and how freedom of speech is being suppressed. It is my duty to come out and speak up.”
Demonstrators held signs that showed the victims of the fire, many of the victims being children. Some signs were critical of the Chinese government, saying “Do not fear, do not forget, do not forgive,” and “End CCP, XI Jinping fuck off.”
Some demonstrators held up blank sheets of white paper to protest China’s censorship of demonstrations against its COVID policy.
“The Chinese Communist Party is fearful of even a blank piece of paper,” Bloomington resident Yuehang Liu said.
Last week, 10 people died in a fire in China’s Xinjiang region. Many residents of the area are Uyghur, an ethnic group living in China that practices Islam. The Chinese government has been criticized for its treatment of the Uygur people.
“The cause of the fire was accidental, but the deaths really were avoidable,” Gardner Bovingdon, IU professor of East Asian cultures, said. “They were part of a policy.”
“Those people were stuck in their homes and couldn’t escape because of China’s zero COVID policy,” speaker Aytur Tashpolat said.
Many of the demonstrators wore hats, masks and sunglasses to conceal their identities, out of fear of them or their families being connected to protests critical of the Chinese government.
“I am worried about their safety,” Tashpolat said. “I heard that my aunt was taken to a concentration camp because she contacted someone who was abroad.”
Tashpolat, who is Uyghur, said many of the fire victims were women and children because the husbands are in concentration camps.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of one of the demonstrators.