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moderator
03-02-06, 13:33
The Ghulja Massacre: “We refuse to forget”.

For Immediate Release
February 3, 2006, 12:00 a.m. EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project, 1 (202) 349 1496

(Washington, D.C., Friday February 3, 2006.) Amid recent reports of police in China again using lethal force against demonstrators, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) marks the ninth anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre on February 5, 1997. According to some sources, over 100 people were killed when police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Ghulja [Ch: Yining], East Turkistan – referred to by the Chinese authorities as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

In the period immediately following February 5, 1997, thousands of people 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.

UHRP is calling on the Chinese government to allow an independent enquiry into the events surrounding those deaths and the subsequent arrests, prison sentences, and executions imposed in association with the demonstration. The official explanation that the demonstration was an act of “terrorism” cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged or uncorroborated by independent evidence and testimony.

“The Chinese authorities seem determined to forget what happened on that day, to erase it from history and have everyone else forget too,” said Nury Turkel, President of UHRP. “We, however, cannot forget and in truth, we refuse to forget. The people who were killed and the ones still in prison, they and their families still in East Turkistan have the right to justice, the right to know the truth, and the right to tell the truth without fear of recrimination.”

The demonstration on February 5, 1997 was in response to several issues, including the banning of traditional Uyghur gatherings called meshrep, important social meetings for discussing and resolving community affairs.

Meshrep in Ghulja had been very successful at addressing problems which many people thought the Chinese authorities had ignored, such as alcohol and drug abuse among Uyghur youth. The Uyghur community also organized a soccer league with 16 teams, 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.

However, the Chinese authorities banned meshrep, reportedly because of the success they had in mobilizing young people amid concerns of Uyghur nationalism and ‘separatism’; soon after, and 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”.

“The demonstration on February 5 was spontaneous,” said Mr Turkel. “These people – thousands of them – had simply had enough of this kind of treatment: there was no help coming from the Chinese authorities, and as soon as people tried to help themselves their activities were in effect criminalized.”

According to different eye-witness accounts, anywhere between nine and 103 people were killed on February 5 when the People’s Armed Police (PAP) opened fire on the demonstrators. Some claim the PAP first fired warning shots into the ground, and that some people – including at least one child – were killed by ricocheting bullets; others say the police fired no warning shots, aiming directly into the crowd.

The following day, hundreds and possibly thousands more people were detained by police as they again took to the streets to protest the events of the day before, or simply to search for friends and family who had disappeared. As well as rounding hundreds of people up off the streets, police also raided homes searching for people they suspected of being instrumental in starting the demonstration.

By all accounts, police were indiscriminate in their use of violence against people they detained, and witnesses and survivors have described in detail how the abuse and conditions in detention caused further serious injuries and deaths. For instance, according to Amnesty International’s research, around 300 people were made to stand outside in winter conditions for several hours having been hosed down with water. Several people contracted frostbite and some had to have hands, feet or limbs amputated.

“The recent police killings of demonstrators in Guangdong Province and issues like censorship of the Internet, lawyers and journalists being jailed, and people being wrongly convicted and executed – this is nothing new for people who live under Chinese rule, I’m sorry to say,” said Mr Turkel.

“The Uyghurs have been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment and worse for two generations now: we’re not surprised when writers, poets and clergy go to prison for 10 years or more for saying what they think; and stories of people being tortured and beaten to death are frankly quite common. Yes, we’re angry, but we’re not surprised.”

The Uyghur community and their friends and supporters in the Washington, DC area have been granted permission by the city authorities to hold a protest demonstration outside the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China on Saturday February 4, 2006 to mark the anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre.

See:

Amnesty International, "Remembering the Victims of Police Brutality in Gulja", February 4, 2005, http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa170052005 (AI Index: ASA 17/005/2005.)

"Public Health and Social Pathologies", Jay Dautcher, in "Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland", S. Frederick Starr (Ed.), M.E.Sharpe, New York, 2004, pp. 276-295.