WUC Set to Demonstrate in Memory of Victims of the Ghulja Incident and the Recent Purge of Uyghur Human Rights Defenders

Press Release – For immediate release
4 February 2014
Contact: World Uyghur Congress www.uyghurcongress.org
0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or contact@uyghurcongress.org

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) would like to announce that it is coordinating the arrangements for worldwide protests and demonstrations to commemorate the memory of the victims of the February 1997 Ghulja Incident. The occasion will also be used to remind the international community of the ongoing purge of Uyghur human rights defenders Ilham Tohti, Abduweli Ayub and Ablikim Abdurehim, who remain detained in contravention of international law. The protests and demonstrations will take place mostly on 5 February 2014 in the following cities and countries outside of Chinese embassies and consulates: Munich, Washington, Oslo, Sweden, Brussels, Sydney, Toronto, and Vienna. 

On 5 February 1997, approximately fifteen to twenty thousand Uyghurs gathered for a peaceful protest in the city of Ghulja (Yining in Mandarin), Ili prefecture in East Turkestan in pursuance of better conditions, including human right and freedom of religion, culture and identity. Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns of the protesters, the protests were brutally suppressed by Chinese security forces, whose actions killed at least 100 Uyghurs and injured many more. In a further act to suppress the truth of the events that day, more than 200 Uyghurs were sentenced to death, and approximately 4000 Uyghurs were arrested during and in the aftermath of the demonstration, where many remain disappeared today, likely dead or hidden in the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) notoriously hidden prison system.

The Chinese authorities tried by every means to cover up the true extent of their human rights violations that day. They deployed more than 40,000 security forces to cut off Ghulja from the outside world in order to prevent leaks of information. Those who still dared to pass on information and were caught doing so were subjected to long prison sentences. After the suppression of the demonstration, the Chinese government intensified its repression of the Uyghurs, as well as its persecution of the Uyghurs. The government subjected Uyghurs to especially intense religious persecution and repression.

“The ongoing impunity of what happened then is shocking. To make things worse, the Chinese authorities have continued to evolve these same tactics to undergo its repression of the Uyghur people even more brutally since, including during July 2009 in Urumchi and the ongoing repression from 2013 to 2014. This is leaving generations of families distraught at the impunity with which the authorities can arbitrarily arrest, extra-judicially kill, harass and intimidate them. Not only does it show Uyghurs were personae non gratae in 1997, but that they are even more so today in an emerging China. With so much to offer, it begs the question: what is their actual role in a modern, emerging China? Neglection, rejection and insignificance? ” said WUC President and prominent Uyghur human rights activist.

Ms Kadeer was herself a prisoner of conscience in the PRC following her outspoken criticisms of the Chinese Authorities’ treatment of Uyghurs in the PRC, especially after the Ghulja Incident, which she personally witnessed. For her efforts to advocate for Uyghurs’ rights, she was imprisoned in 1999, only being released after 6 years following intense diplomatic pressure. After her release, the Chinese authorities had targeted her family, wherein two of her sons Alim Kadeer and Ablikim Abdurehim were sentenced to long terms in prison, where Ablikim remains after Alim’s released in December 2012.

The Chinese authorities have most recently targeted eminent Beijing-based Uyghur scholar Professor Ilham Tohti. Professor Tohti had been advocating for better economic, social and cultural rights of Uyghurs and better inter-ethnic relations between Uyghurs, Han and other ethnic groups through his Mandarin-language website uighurbiz.net which he administers. For his work which was widely considered moderate in tone and is well respected, he has been systematically subjected to a series of reprisals, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, denial of medical care, possibly assassination attempt, and harassment and intimidation of himself and his family. Most recently, on 15 January 2014 he was arrested along with his mother and several of his students, where his whereabouts and condition remains unknown. The US, the then-EU Ambassador to Beijing Markus Ederer and the EU High Representative Baroness Ashton have all issued statements urging for his immediate release.

Furthermore, Uyghur language rights teacher and activists Abduweli Ayub has also been recently arrested, in August 2013, where he remains languishing in prison and with his health deteriorating. The Chinese authorities have also refused to inform the family of the whereabouts of Abduweli Ayup, who was an active promoter of the Uyghur language, since he was arrested in August for allegedly “illegally collecting donations to run Uyghur schools in East Turkestan.” The WUC will be holding a conference on the issue of language rights in Paris, France on 21 February 2014 in which this issue will be addressed, which will also coincide with the 15th anniversary of UNESCO’s International Mother Tongue Day. The WUC will also be issuing a report on this attempt by Mr Ayup to promote and teach the Uyghur language in the coming future.


Background information:

Ghulja 5 February 1997:

The demonstration in February 1997 in Ghulja was motivated by increasing suppression of Uyghur culture and religion in the region of Ghulja, including the traditional Uyghur gatherings called meshrep which had again been banned by the Chinese authorities after having been officially allowed only in 1994. The Uyghurs in the area had revived the meshrep in an attempt to revive Islamic culture and to prevent social problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse. The leaders of the local Uyghur communities had also organised soccer leagues, which were also then banned by the authorities and the sports fields were destroyed.

The Uyghurs in Ghulja demonstrated on the morning of 5 February 1997 to demand the release of hundreds of young Muslim believers who had been detained the night before (the holy month of Ramadan) while engaging in their traditional prayers in their homes. The demonstration was stopped by the police, who then began to shoot into the crowd without reason or provocation and killed demonstrators. Under the accusation of “extremism, terrorism or separatism” hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were arrested. In the afternoon, friends and relatives of those arrested in the morning organized a second demonstration to demand their release. Again, the security forces brutally suppressed the demonstration and again arrests of hundreds of people were arrested. According to eyewitnesses, the detained people were beaten, mistreated and tortured in custody which led to the death of some detainees.

The demonstrations continued on the next day. Thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against the Chinese government and the oppression of the Uyghur people. Again, many people were arrested.

The Chinese government has claimed that the protests were acts of “terrorism”. Routinely, the Chinese authorities equate peaceful Uyghur dissent with the so-called “three evils” (terrorism, separatism and religious extremism) in order to justify their human rights violations against the Uyghur people.

Urumqi 05 July 2009:

The human rights situation of the Uyghur population in East Turkestan has been dire for decades and has even worsened since the July 2009 protest and ethnic unrest in Urumqi, the capital of East Turkestan. The July 2009 protest began with a peaceful demonstration by Uyghurs in Urumqi that was brutally and lethally suppressed by Chinese security forces. The Uyghurs were protesting against a lack of government action in regard to a deadly attack on Uyghur factory workers in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province in the south of China. The violent and illegal reaction of the Chinese security forces to the peaceful protest led then to ethnic violence and riots between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, during which hundreds of Uyghur and Han Chinese civilians were killed. According to data published by the Chinese Xinhua news agency, 197 people were killed, but the World Uyghur Congress estimates – based on eyewitness reports – that more than 1000 people died in the riots. However, until today, the exact death toll on both sides is not clear since so far no independent investigation of these events has been undertaken.


For more information see also:

Ghulja 5 February 1997:

Thirteen years on, the victims of the Ghulja Massacre remain unaccounted for
Uyghur American Association Press Release, 5 February 2010

Protest marks Xinjiang ‘massacre’
Al Jazeera, 06 February 2007

A decade on, the Ghulja Massacre is yet to be redressed
Uyghur American Association Press Release, January 10, 2007

The Ghulja Massacre: “We refuse to forget”
Uyghur Human Rights Project Press release, February 3, 2006

China: Remembering the victims of police brutality in Gulja, Xinjiang on 5-6 February 1997
Amnesty International, 4 February 2005

Das Massaker von Gulja. Eine brutale Strafaktion Pekings gegen die Uiguren
GFBV Memorandum, February 2000

Urumqi 5 July 2009:

Repression in China- Roots and Repercussions of the Urumqi Unrest
UNPO Report, November 2009

“We Are Afraid to Even Look for Them”: Enforced Disappearances in the Wake of Xinjiang’s Protests
Human Rights Watch Report, October 2009

After the disturbances in Urumqi: Persecution of Uyghurs in China continues
Society for Threatened Peoples Report, May 2010

Can Anyone Hear Us? Voices from the 2009 Unrest In Urumchi
Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) Report, July 2010

“Justice, justice”: The July 2009 protests in Xinjiang, China
Amnesty International Report, 2010