Uyghurs demonstrate in Brussels in front of the Chinese Embassy
5 February 2010
Demonstrators held banners demanding:
“FREEDOM FOR THE UYGHURS”and “STOP THE EXECUTIONS OF UYGHURS”
On February 5, 1997, between ten and fifteen thousand Uyghurs, mostly young men, took to the streets of Ghulja and marched to the Ghulja Municipal Government offices. They were demanding equal treatment, religious freedom and an end to racial discrimination in response to ever more repressive policies and practices against the majority Uyghur community in Ghulja.
The People’s Republic of China authorities had recently banned traditional Uyghur gatherings called meshrep, important social meetings for discussing and resolving community affairs, suspecting they were being used for “separatist activities directed against the Chinese state”.
Meshrip in Ghulja had been very successful at addressing problems that many people thought the government had ignored, such as alcohol and drug abuse among Uyghur youth.
The Uyghur community had also organized a soccer league with 16 teams, which was regarded as a welcome diversion from concerns over high unemployment among young Uyghurs, as well as being a good form of exercise for people keen to come off alcohol and drugs
Just before the soccer tournament was due to begin, the authorities parked tanks on the soccer fields in Ghulja, claiming the space was needed for military exercises, and broadcast regular radio programs saying that the games would have been “illegal gatherings” had they taken place.
The Chinese authorities responded to the appearance of thousands of Uyghurs on the streets of Ghulja by sending fully armed paramilitary police to confront the unarmed demonstrators with batons, tear gas and high-pressure water sprayed from fire trucks.
Eyewitnesses report that Chinese police fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing as many as 30 Uyghur demonstrators and wounding more than 100 on the spot.
Chinese police then rounded up fleeing demonstrators, loaded them on to military trucks already stationed by the sides of the roads, and took them to different detention facilities in and around Ghulja. When all of the facilities in Ghulja were filled, the police took several hundred demonstrators to a sports stadium and soaked them with cold water from a fire hose.
Several people developed frostbite in the cold wintry conditions, and later had to have hands, feet or whole limbs amputated.
In the period immediately following February 5, 1997, thousands of Uyghurs were detained on suspicion of participating in the demonstration. In some cases, family members of those who had participated were also detained. Dozens and possibly hundreds of Uyhgurs were executed, some in public, following summary trials. Many others were sentenced to lengthy prison terms including life on charges of ‘hooliganism’. Other people simply disappeared and are assumed to be either in prison or dead, their remains disposed of without their families being informed.
According to Amnesty International report issued in April 1999, China executed more than 200 Uyghurs in February 1997 for their participation in the demonstration. Some sources put this number at more than 400. Detainees suspected of organizing the demonstration were the victims of sever torture in prison and many died as a result of the injuries sustained during torture.
“The Chinese authorities must allow a full and open independent inquiry into the events of the Ghulja Massacre and hold those responsible for the deaths during and after the demonstration publicly accountable”, said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer.
“The government should immediately and unconditionally release anyone found to have been detained for their non-violent protests in Ghulja and provide compensation for the individuals and the families of those who were injured or killed during this peaceful demonstration.”