On February 5, 1997, a peaceful protest was transformed into a bloodbath by the Chinese police and soldiers.
by Abdurehim Gheni Uyghur
The 5th of February is another painful commemoration day for the Uyghurs. Twenty-six years ago, the “Ghulja Massacre” was perpetrated by the Chinese government, and terrorized the Uyghur people as one of the most bloody crackdowns in recent history. It cannot disappear from the memory of the Uyghur nation. Ghulja is the city where the Uyghur independence was declared and East Turkestan Republic was established on November 12, 1944. For the Chinese, this city has always been a sensitive area.
On February 5, 1997, 26 years ago, a peaceful demonstration led by Abduhelil Abdumejit broke out in Ghulja, where Uyghurs showed their discontentment for the Chinese policies of banning the Uyghur cultural gatherings known as Meshrep and Uyghur soccer tournaments, forcefully transferring Uyghur children and girls to mainland Chinese provinces, and allowing and not controlling the widespread drug traffic in the region.
What had started as a peaceful demonstration ended up in a bloodbath due to the actions of the Chinese armed police and soldiers, who used machine guns, fire bombs, and police dogs. While the authorities reported that nine protesters died, conservative independent estimates assessed the victims between 100 and 200.
For two weeks, a state of emergency and martial law was declared, airports and bus stations were closed, all main roads to the city were blocked, and all the houses in the city were searched to arrest thousands of innocent young men.
Prisons and detention centers with cold little dungeons in the region were packed with Uyghur youth. Later on, all the men arrested after the incident were gathered in an open square on snow and ice, forced to walk barefoot, and sprayed icy-cold water on their bodies, which caused their fingers and legs to be frostbitten and later amputated. Some froze to death.
All the leaders of the demonstration were given capital punishment, and protesters are still in prison until this day after 26 years.
Every year, on the 5th of February, we Uyghurs protest around the world commemorating the Ghulja Massacre and grieving for those who sacrificed themselves for freedom. On this day, we expose China’s crimes and genocide against the Uyghurs in the past 74 years. And we remind the world that the genocide still continues today.