PRESS RELEASE: 21 Years After the Ghulja Massacre Uyghurs Facing Unprecedented Persecution
The World Uyghur Congress commemorates the 21st anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre in which hundreds of peaceful Uyghur protesters were killed by Chinese state security forces in early February 1997. The date remains a watershed moment in terms of the treatment of Uyghurs in East Turkestan by the Chinese government, who would use excessive force to violently break up any form of demonstration since then.
On 5 February 1997, thousands of Uyghurs gathered for a peaceful demonstration in the Ili prefecture city of Ghulja in East Turkestan in response to continued Chinese aggression and the prohibition of Uyghur social organizations, known as Mäshräp, from gathering for cultural events. The protests were immediately quashed by Chinese security forces leaving at least 100 dead and many more injured. Nearly 4000 would be arrested and of those, 200 would subsequently face the death penalty.
In the years following the incidents, the Chinese government chose to disregard legitimate grievances widely voiced by the Uyghur community, rather than developing a response that would take the rights of millions seriously. In the aftermath, peaceful protests were all but snuffed out as Uyghurs became increasingly intimidated by such a use of force – a clear intention of the state.
The response to the demonstrations would prove crucial in understanding the intentions of the Chinese government in East Turkestan for years afterwards. We continue to witness an outright disregard for human life in many of these circumstances. Freedom of assembly and association are clearly enshrined in international law to ensure that the peaceful voice of the oppressed are able to speak out to their oppressors and demand equal treatment.
In 2018, police and security forces have grown well accustom to dealing with any kind of conflict strictly with force, deadly if necessary. As a perverse consequence, we have witnessed the violent suppression of Uyghur voices in public – measures that have been undoubtedly been institutionalized. Hundreds of Uyghurs have been killed over the last 21 years in an effort to maintain a firm grip on the exercise of freedom.
The lack of transparency and credible information on these cases continues to stymie efforts aimed at gaining accountability years later. Not only does it obscure and misconstrue incidents for the international community and the Uyghur people, but it clouds our understanding of the true nature of the repression of the Uyghur people and as a result, inhibits our ability to solve the problem.
Since 1997, hundreds of loved ones have been lost to the callous power of the Chinese government, who continue to look at their abhorrent actions against the Uyghur population with remarkable pride. It is in this light that we call on the international community to continue to raise these cases as a means of demonstrating that the victims will never be forgotten, their cause never ceased.