Eighteenth anniversary of Ghulja Massacre highlights Chinese government pattern of state violence targeting Uyghurs

Çar, 02/04/2015 - 08:01 -- Kanat

For immediate release
February 3, 2015 10:00 am EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

On the occasion of the eighteenth anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) calls on the Chinese government to fully account for credible allegations of state violence used against Uyghur protestors on February 5, 1997.

UHRP also calls for an investigation into further allegations of Chinese state violence against Uyghurs occurring in the past two years in Hanerik, Seriqbuya, Elishku and Alaqagha.

UHRP believes the Chinese government has offered a narrative of the above incidents that deliberately obscures the deployment of excessive state force and exploits events to justify repression of the Uyghur people.

A transparent account into allegations of state violence used against civilians is a cornerstone to reconciliation. If the Chinese government is genuine in seeking stability for East Turkestan, it must offer records on state actions related to these incidents to public inquiry and prosecute Chinese officials responsible for the massacre.

“The Ghulja Massacre is a stain on the record of Chinese Communist Party administration in East Turkestan. Although Chinese officials believe crackdowns and excessive force will bring stability to the region, it is state transparency and accountability towards the Uyghur people that will ease tensions,” said UHRP director, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC.

“When a government calls inter-ethnic bridge builders such as Uyghur academic, Ilham Tohti the ‘brains’ behind terrorism, we have to question its commitment to creating the conditions for stability. Furthermore, when Chinese officials repackage Uyghur protests against state repression as the work of ‘religious extremists,’ we have to ask whether political opportunism has gotten in the way of the truth. Until justice has been delivered to the Uyghurs killed by state violence in Ghulja in 1997, it is the duty of the international community to ask China these questions.” 

On February 5, 1997, demonstrators in Ghulja in northwest East Turkestan took part in a non-violent march calling for an end to religious repression and ethnic discrimination in the city. Among the policies that prompted the demonstration was the prohibition on traditional Uyghur gatherings known as meshrep. Chinese authorities banned meshrep just prior to the demonstration, despite the fact that Uyghur communities were using the meshrep to successfully fight alcohol and drug abuse among Uyghur young people.

Witnesses reported that among the thousands of demonstrators were not only young men, but also women and children. Fully armed paramilitary police shot at the unarmed Uyghur protestors injuring and killing those present. Chinese state accounts blamed the incident on “religious elements bent on stirring up holy war.”

Authorities subsequently rounded up thousands of Uyghurs suspected of participating in the demonstration. Amnesty International documented a pattern of arbitrary imprisonment, torture in detention and unfair trials in relation to those rounded up. A number of Uyghurs were executed for their alleged role in the incident.   

The Chinese government has ignored calls from international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations in Ghulja, and to address the grievances of demonstrators. UHRP calls on Chinese authorities to release all Uyghur political prisoners convicted on charges related to the Ghulja protests.

See also:

Video on the Ghulja Massacre from Channel 4 (UK)

Gross Violations of Human Rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region

Rebiya Kadeer’s Personal Account of Gulja after the Massacre on 5 February 1997

UHRP Interview with a Ghulja Massacre Protestor in Washington, DC, February 5, 2014