Press Release: World Uyghur Congress Commemorates Ghulja Massacre
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) commemorates the 27th anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre, marking the Chinese security forces’ crackdown on peaceful Uyghur protesters in East Turkistan.
On February 5th, 1997, thousands of Uyghurs gathered in Ghulja, Ili prefecture, to peacefully protest Chinese aggression and the prohibition of the Uyghur Meshrep, a key cultural tradition. In response, Chinese authorities violently cracked down on the protestors, leading to at least 100 deaths, numerous injuries, and the arrest of nearly 4,000 demonstrators, with 200 facing the death penalty.
“Over the past 27 years, the Chinese government’s assault on Uyghur rights has intensified, turning into a genocide,” said World Uyghur Congress President, Dolkun Isa. “Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, arbitrary arrests, suppression of cultural heritage, and increased repression of Uyghurs both in East Turkistan and abroad have become widespread.”
Twenty-seven years ago, thousands of Uyghurs in Ghulja chose to speak out against decades of oppression by successive Chinese governments. Ever since, the Chinese government has continued its attack on all fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Uyghur people. Since 2017 with the “Strike Hard Campaign”, the Chinese government’s campaign against “terrorism and extremism”, these human rights abuses have developed into crimes against humanity and genocide. Many Uyghurs continue to be imprisoned for their involvement in the Ghulja demonstrations, and the repressive policies enacted in East Turkistan continue to threaten the lives of Uyghurs, who are forcefully disappeared, imprisoned, detained, and subjected to forced labour.
Meshrep consists of Uyghur community gatherings that typically include food, music, joking, and storytellin, and an informal community court. It’s been added to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2010. However, this practice has been criminalised by the authorities, with the Ghulja Massacre. Instead, the Chinese Government has replaced it with staged Meshrep shows that are used as entertainment for tourists and as a tool for propaganda.
The WUC calls on the international community to reflect on the lessons of Ghulja and take decisive action. As we remember the Ghulja Massacre and acknowledge the suffering of millions of Uyghurs, the WUC emphasises the importance of collective action against the atrocity crimes. Urgent support for justice and accountability efforts is needed to counter the ongoing atrocities committed by the Chinese government with impunity.
To commemorate the victims of the Ghulja Massacre, the Uyghur diaspora community will participate in rallies globally, such as in London. Additionally, the WUC together with the National Endowment of Democracy will co-host Meshrep: Freedom for Uyghurs, on February 17, on the margins of the Munich Security Conference 2024.