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Image: Remembering the Ghulja Massacre 
Copyright: Gunta Venge/the Rafto Foundation

Remembering the Ghulja Massacre

Today, the Ghulja massacre is being marked worldwide. The Rafto Foundation pays its respect to the hundreds of Uyghurs who were killed or imprisoned after participating in a peaceful demonstration in Ghulja in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the People´s Republic of China in 1997.

Thursday, 05 February 2009, by This article has been written by the Rafto Foundation and has been edited by HRHF / Ralph Pluimert

The Rafto Foundation reiterates its demand for the immediate release of those demonstrators still serving long prison sentences, as well as for an open investigation into the events and an end to the impunity for those responsible for the Ghulja massacre.

Equal treatment 
On 5 February 1997, thousands of Uyghur men, women and children went out on the streets of Ghulja and called for equal treatment, religious and cultural freedom, as well as freedom of speech. They also demanded an end to the racial discrimination they experienced daily, leading to the cultural and economic marginalization of the Uyghur community. 

Met with force 
The peaceful demonstration was met with brute force by units of the People’s Armed Police and riot police. According to eye witnesses, the security forces opened fire into the crowd. The death toll varies, but witnesses report that as many as 30 Uyghurs were killed on the spot, and more than hundred were wounded. 

Voice for Uyghurs 
- On 5 February 1997 we are commemorating the victims of the Ghulja massacre. This is a very dark chapter in Uyghur history. However, we are also using this sad memorial day to act as a voice for all Uyghurs who have been arrested in recent years. According to the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), an official Chinese newspaper recently reported that nearly 1300 people were arrested in Xinjiang on state security crimes in 2008, marking a steep increase compared to previous years, says Arne Liljedahl Lynngård, Chairman of the Rafto Prize Committee. 

Chinese embassy - demonstration 
The Norwegian Uyghur Committee will arrange a demonstration on Thursday 5th of February at 2 pm-3 pm outside the Chinese embassy in Oslo, Norway. They will ask the Chinese government to change their oppressive politics in Xinjiang and respect the basic rights of the indigenous people. The release of prisoners from the peaceful demonstration in 1997 and a full investigation of the incidents remains of critical importance.

200 Uyghurs executed 
In the ensuing panic in Ghulja, 12 years ago, the police rounded up and detained hundreds of demonstrators, who were loaded into trucks and taken to detention centres around the city. The following weeks featured an unprecedented persecution, during which an unknown number of Uyghurs were imprisoned or simply disappeared. According to an Amnesty report issued in April 1999, more than 200 Uyghurs were executed for their participation in the peaceful demonstration. Uyghurs are still in prison because they took part in the Ghulja demonstration. No-one has been held accountable for the brutal crackdown on the non-violent protest, and the persecution of Uyghurs continues unabated, rebranded as part of the international “war on terror”.  

- The Rafto Foundation calls upon the Chinese government to release Uyghurs who have been detained and imprisoned for engaging in peaceful activities, and to increase the level of transparency in its reporting of arrests and detentions, says Arne Liljedahl Lynngård.

This article has been written by the Rafto Foundation and has been edited by HRHF / Ralph Pluimert

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