Jan 12, 2007

East Turkestan: Massacre Remembered

Demonstrations will be held to commemorate the hundreds of Uyghurs killed after taking part in a peaceful demonstration in East Turkestan in 1997.

Below is a Press Release issued by the Uyghur American Association;

A decade on, the Ghulja Massacre is yet to be redressed

On Monday February 5, 2007 between 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm, members of the Uyghur American Association (UAA), the local Uyghur community and their supporters will gather in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre on February 5, 1997. The demonstration will feature a speech by Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, president of the UAA and the World Uyghur Congress, as well as other speakers. 

Members of the public and the media are welcome to attend. 

Demonstrators will be remembering the hundreds of Uyghurs who were killed, imprisoned, or who disappeared having taken part in a peaceful demonstration in Ghulja in the northwest of East Turkistan

Several thousand Uyghurs, mostly young men, took to the streets of Ghulja on February 5, 1997 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 Chinese 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. Meshrep in Ghulja had been very successful at addressing problems that many people thought the Chinese authorities 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. 

Armed Chinese police then rounded up fleeing demonstrators and 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, 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 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; dozens and possibly hundreds of Uyghurs 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 an Amnesty International report issued in April 1999, China executed more than 200 Uyghurs in February 1997 for their participation in the demonstration. Detainees suspected of organizing the demonstration, including Abduhelil Abdumejit, were the victims of severe torture in prison, and Abduhelil Abdumejit himself died in 2000 as a result of the injuries he sustained during torture. 

It is still not known with any accuracy how many Uyghurs were detained, imprisoned or executed – summarily or judicially – in the wake of the initial demonstration and its aftermath. The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which monitors patterns of political imprisonment in the People’s Republic of China, reports a continuing ‘spike’ in the numbers of people sentenced for the crime of “endangering state security” in East Turkistan from 1997 onwards. 

According to Dui Hua’s research based on official Chinese sources, more than half of all China’s “endangering state security” cases since 1997 have been tried in East Turkistan – almost 63% of cases in the PRC were in East Turkistan in 1999; in 2003, the most recent figures published by Dui Hua, the figure was still more than half, at 55.8%. 

UAA condemns the fact that in the ten years since the Ghulja Massacre, the Chinese authorities have never held anyone in China’s security apparatus publicly accountable for the deaths of numerous Uyghurs during and after the demonstration in Ghulja. Furthermore, the Chinese government has never attempted to offer any form of compensation or other form of support for people who were injured or bereaved by security forces. 

As the tenth anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre approaches, UAA calls upon the Chinese government to reevaluate its repressive policies in East Turkistan and begin to respect the fundamental human rights of the Uyghur people. UAA calls upon the Chinese authorities to allow a full and open independent enquiry into the events of the Ghulja Massacre, and to immediately and unconditionally release anyone found to have been detained for their non-violent protests in Ghulja in February 1997. 

Demonstration details:

Park in front of the Chinese Embassy
2300 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
February 5, 2007
2:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Contact: Uyghur American Association, (+1) 202 349 1496