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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Ghulja Xinjiang 1997 Riots: A Watershed

In February 1997 there erupted riots in the Xinjiang city of Ghulja (Chinese name Yining) involving, some say, 1,000 Uygurs and resulting in the direct deaths of between 10 and 200 Uygur and Han Chinese depending on whose version you believe.

The Ghulja riots marked a watershed in the the Uygur's human rights history and it had two very opposite effects.

On one hand it focused the world's attention on the Uygur cause. Whereas before the P.R.C had been very successful in hiding the unrest growing in this large ethnic group in Xinjiang the advent of Ghulja changed that forever, never again would what happens in Xinjiang remain totally hidden.

Ghulja brought the attention of the world's press to Xinjiang, focused human rights activists on the plight of the Uygur and gave impetus to the Uygur in diaspora to take up "cyber activism" in a significant way.

In that respect Ghulja was a positive despite the unfortunate deaths of peoples caught up in the riots.

However Ghulja marked another turning point, one that seven years later has appeared to have totally negated the "positives"

China's response was swift, brutal and had a far reaching impact on the future of the Uygur.

Within hours and days of the riot martial law was instigated in the major cities of Xinjiang. Thousands of Uygurs were rounded up and thrown in jail, tens of them reportedly, never to be seen or heard of again.

There were reports of summary executions of up to 30 Uygur on the day of the riot, other reports had in excess of 30 Uygur dying as a result of being left in the open in minus 17 c temperature after being drenched with fire hoses and arrested.

Executions of alleged participants numbering in their hundreds began almost immediately with the last Ghulja "rioter" to be executed only as recent as October 2003.

Despite this massive response and it's immediate effects this was not the only end result of Ghulja. The PRC immediately claimed that the riot was organised by "Uygur terrorists" and begun in earnest an intensive propaganda campaign both internally and internationally "justifying"that the PRC "crackdown" on the Uygurs equated with what would be later to be termed as the "War on Terror"

Ghulja thus was a double edged sword for the Uygur. On one hand it provided the much needed international awareness of their cause but on the other hand cost them immensely in terms of loss of life, rights and liberty, consequences that still very much being felt today. If we were called to prepare a balance sheet on Ghulja and it's after effects the Uygur would undoubtedly be very much in the red.

What were the events of the day? Was it a "riot" organised by "Separatist/Islamic Uygur Terrorists" or was it a spontaneous uprising against Han rule and ethnic policies? Has the P.R.C been justified in using Ghulja as a peg on which to hang it's "War on terror" against the Uygur? Did the moment of "glory" for the Uygur people mark also the commencement of a programme that would eventually crush it's collective will and provide for their ultimate "defeat"?

I am currently researching an article where I hope to bring together interviews with real people at the scene at the time as well as wade through the propaganda and conflicting reports that have come out of the incident so as to make some sense of what actually happened and its ramifications for the Uygur people. With a little luck this will be appearing in "The Uygur Letter" very soon.


To those who have visited "The Uygur Letter" before you may notice some changes to the look and format. One is the introduction of the "Blog Roll" which allows you access to all the information I source on a daily basis through my RSS feeds. As I add and delete these over time they are automatically refreshed in the navigation area.

All these sites have RSS feeds and for those not familiar with the technology ( I am only new to it myself ) you can through a thing called a "News Aggregator" be constantly updated on news and posts such as this in "Blogs"

May I recommend to those who would like to take advantage of this relatively new technology that you visit y
Bloglines where you can set up your own free online news aggregator. Here you can channel into RSS feeds from those sites that support it. (mine does). If your favorite news site or Blog does not have an RSS feed then all you have to do is go to MYRSS and follow the very simple instructions to create a "Channel" which you can then load into your "News Aggregator" at Bloglines. Easy (it really is!)

Now instead of every morning wading through hundreds of "news alert" emails and visiting all my favorite sites to see if they have anything new to report I simply go to my "News Aggregator" and in a matter of seconds skim through headlines and summaries. I have literally cut my time spent on this by 90% and at a click on a notification icon supplied to your scroll bar you can see when new feeds have come through.

You can even get a special email address that you use to subscribe to you website newsletters and Ezines and they are sent and "Aggregated" for you at Bloglines.

Absolutely incredible why not give a go?

An Anniversary: When do The Uygurs and Tibetans pop the Champagne?

An interesting anniversary has just passed, that of 25 years since US diplomatic ties with China were restored. Who would have believed how time flies?

For a walk down memory lane from the PRC's perspective go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC

The Face in the Photo

I have spoke of the planned piece on Ghulja and the update to the look of the site. Some may have noticed a picture of a man behind bars at the top right of the page.

This man is Abduhelil Abdulmejit and he was considered by the Chinese to be the Chief Organiser of the Ghulja Riots.

Abduhelil Abdulmejit organized social gatherings started by Uygurs in Ghulja in 1994 to combat widespreaddrug abuse and social problems among youths. Authorities banned the gatherings in 1995, apparently fearing their growing strength.

Married with three children, Abduhelil Abdulmejit was arrested immediately after the riots in Ghila and spent 44 months behind bars suffering it is claimed by such sources as Amnesty International continuous torture and deprivations.

Unfortunately Abdhur died in 2001 supposedly of "pneumonia"
whilst in a Chinese prison and was unceremoniously buried without his relatives getting access to the body or the grave.

Following is an AP 2001 report concerning ETIC and Amnesty International claims regarding Abdhur and his treatment at the hands of the PRC.

China Protest Leader Said Tortured

By JOHN LEICESTER, Associated Press Writer

BEIJING (AP) - Police have tortured to death an organizer of one of the
largest uprisings against Chinese rule in China's restive Muslim northwest,
according to a separatist group.

Abduhelil Abdulmejit, imprisoned 44 months ago and repeatedly interrogated
and tortured, died Oct. 17 in the Chapchal Su Detention Center in the
Xinjiang region's Yili county, said the East Turkistan Information Center,
based in Germany.

A detention center official confirmed Abduhelil Abdulmejit's death but said
he died from pneumonia at the central prison in Yining, Yili's county seat,
not at the detention center. The official, reached by telephone Tuesday, did
not provide other details or his name. An official at the Yining prison
refused to comment.

The Information Center said police buried Abduhelil Abdulmejit in prison
clothes in a shallow grave in Chapchal. His relatives and friends have not
been allowed to visit the grave, the center said in a report posted Saturday
on its Web site.

The center is one of many overseas groups demanding independence for
Xinjiang and its dominant ethnic group, the Uighurs. It described Abduhelil
Abdulmejit as ``chief organizer'' of Uighur protests that shook Yining - a
city near China's border with Kazakstan - in February 1997.

Hundreds took to the streets shouting ``God is great'' and ``Independence
for Xinjiang'' on Feb. 5. Police and soldiers moved in and two days of
beating, shooting and burning ensued.

By the government's count, 10 people died. Uighur exile groups contend that
at least 100 died and that security forces used water cannons, tear gas and
bullets to end the protests. Amnesty International estimated that in the two
weeks following the protests 3,000 to 5,000 people were arrested.

Uighurs declared a short-lived East Turkistan Republic in Xinjiang in the
last years of World War II, but the region has been firmly in Chinese hands
since the Communist Party seized power in 1949. Militant Uighurs have in
recent years carried out a campaign of bombing and assassinations against
Chinese rule.

Amnesty International reported last year that Abduhelil Abdulmejit organized
social gatherings started by Uighurs in Yining in 1994 to combat widespread
drug abuse and social problems among youths. Authorities banned the
gatherings in 1995, apparently fearing their growing strength, Amnesty said.

Married with three children, Abduhelil Abdulmejit was arrested immediately
after the demonstrations erupted in Yining, the Amnesty report said.

Citing unofficial sources, the report said prison guards made him face a
wall with arms raised while they beat him, set a dog on him and tortured

In a statement Tuesday on news of his death, London-based Amnesty said
Abduhelil Abdulmejit's case was typical and highlighted ``the urgent need
for international action on torture.''

China's government acknowledges that torture occurs in prisons and police
stations but says it does not condone it and is trying to stop it.

The Uygur (Uighur) of Xinjiang need the support of the world in the attainment of basic human rights. This blog of news commentary and analysis hopes to add to pressure on the People's Republic of China to bring about positive change.