PRESS RELEASE: WUC Remembers the Victims of the Ghulja Massacre on its 23rd Anniversary
The World Uyghur Congress remembers the victims of the Ghulja Massacre, on the 23rd anniversary of the incident where hundreds of Uyghurs were killed, arrested or wounded as Chinese security forces violently cracked down on peaceful Uyghur protestors.
The date remains a watershed moment in terms of the treatment of Uyghurs in East Turkistan by the Chinese government, and foreshadowed the persecution that would last for years afterwards.
On February 5, 1997, thousands of Uyghurs gathered for a peaceful demonstration in the Ili prefecture city of Ghulja in East Turkistan 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.
Uyghur Congress President, Dolkun Isa, said of the incident, “While the mass arbitrary detention of 1.8 – 3 million innocent Uyghurs in internment camps since 2017 has rightfully drawn significant attention to the CCP’s persecution of the Uyghur people, Uyghurs have faced severe persecution, massacres and repression for much of our modern history. The Ghulja Massacre was one of several serious incidents that preceded and contributed to the horrific situation we are now facing.”
While the Chinese government had frequently cracked down on Uyghur protests, denied them their basic rights and silenced dissenting voices, the level of brutality demonstrated in the Ghulja Massacre showed a dramatic escalation in repression.
Subsequent Uyghur protests or demonstrations have been dealt with in an equally repressive and violent manner. Most notably, after demonstrations and unrest in Urumqi on July 5, 2009, Chinese security forces cracked down brutally on anyone thought to be involved. Hundreds of innocent Uyghurs were killed, arrested or simply disappeared. Human Rights Watch recorded over 40 Uyghurs were subjected to enforced disappearance by the Chinese government, although the total number of disappearances is likely over 200 people.
Since the crackdown in 2009, freedom of assembly has been virtually non-existent. Any small demonstrations that have sprung up have been quickly quashed. Similarly, freedom of expression has also been severely curtailed, leaving Uyghurs with no possibility to express legitimate grievances or to call for their rights to be respected. The Ghulja Massacre proved to be emblematic of the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghur people, as they saw many of their basic rights disappear entirely in the intervening years.
In this way, 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.
In this context, China’s decision to arbitrarily detain more than 1.8 – 3 million Uyghurs in political indoctrination camps and attempts to assimilate and socially reengineer the population is part of a decades-long process of repression and coercion. The Uyghur people have witnessed their rights progressively stripped away until their very freedom, culture, religion and ethnic identity was targeted. The camps are a culmination of decades of repressive policies directed towards the Uyghur people.
“Over the past 23 years, hundreds of Uyghurs in East Turkistan have given their lives trying to exercise their basic rights to freedom of assembly and expression,” WUC President Dolkun Isa stated. “The Uyghur community in the diaspora should honor their memory by using our voices and our right to protest to raise the plight of the Uyghur people in East Turkistan today and to push the international community to take urgent action to stop these atrocities.”
Twenty-three years ago, the international community failed to adequately hold China accountable for the massacre of innocent civilians. The victims and their families have never achieved justice or accountability. Instead, the persecution of the Uyghur people has escalated beyond comprehension and the continued existence of the Uyghurs as a unique ethnic group is under threat.
On February 5th, the World Uyghur Congress therefore remembers all those who were affected and killed during the Ghulja Massacre. We must not forget all those who lost their lives simply for exercising their right to free assembly.
We urge the international community to immediately take action to close the camps and end this escalating cycle of repression. If the world does not act, the situation may continue to get worse.