Still the victims of the Ghulja Massacre remain unaccounted for. The crackdown on Uyghurs in the aftermaths of the deadly unrest in Urumchi on 5 July 2009 is a tragic reminder that the executions, killings and detentions of Uyghurs continue today.
Peaceful protest against discrimination
On 5 February 1997, thousands of Uyghur men, women and children went out onto the streets of Ghulja (above) 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 marginalisation of the Uyghur community.
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 a hundred were wounded.
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”.
Crackdown after 5 July 2009
On 5 July 2009, history repeated itself in a macabre fashion, when police cracked down on peaceful Uyghur protestors in Urumchi, the regional capital of XUAR. According to Chinese media reports, so far, 26 people have been sentenced to death by the Chinese authorities since then. At least, nine of them have already been executed.
“Chinese authorities responded yet again with brute force, crushing Uyghurs who had gathered to protest against unequal treatment. Since that day, thousands of Uyghurs have been detained, and many have simply disappeared off the face of the earth; at least nine have been executed after unfair trials. Today, Uyghurs are too afraid even to ask where their loved ones have been taken, and we may never know what has happened to the many who have been tortured and killed in detention,” said Rafto laureate Rebiya Kadeer (below) on 5 February 2010.
Three weeks ago, a Uyghur teenager was given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve. However, it is the Uyghur Human Rights Project’s (UHRP) understanding that many more Uyghurs were sentenced to death in secret closed trials. UHRP believe a number of Uyghurs was tortured to death in prison or died soon after their release.
Read more about the 14th anniversary of Ghulja Massacre here (UHRP).
Independent investigation not allowed
Since the events of July 2009 the Chinese authorities have not allowed an independent investigation into the violence, including the possible excessive use of force by the security forces against peaceful protesters.
On 17 January, Amnesty International questioned the legitimacy of the hundreds of trials conducted by Chinese authorities in 2010, calling upon Chinese authorities to “demonstrate that the 376 individuals tried in 2010 in connection with the unrest in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region received fair trials and were not punished for simply exercising their freedom of expression.”
“According to information obtained by Amnesty International, many Uyghurs have been punished with harsh sentences for ‘endangering state security’, when they did nothing more than grant interviews to the media or post articles on the internet,” said Catherine Baber, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
Calls for an independent international inquiry
“The Rafto Foundation calls upon the Chinese authorities to allow for an independent international inquiry into the events surrounding the deaths and the subsequent arrests, prison sentences, and executions that took place in both Ghulja and Urumchi,” said Therese Jebsen, Executive Director of the Rafto Foundation, in a statement marking the fourteenth anniversary of the Ghulja massacre.
The Ghulja massacre is being marked every year on 5 February. 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, China.
A wreath on the Human Rights Plaza in Bergen on 5 February 2008 (above).