Ghulja incident
DateFebruary 3, 1997; 24 years ago (1997-02-03)
February 3–5, 1997
Caused by
GoalsUyghur independence
MethodsProtests, rioting
Resulted inProtests suppressed
Parties to the civil conflict
Uyghur independence activists
  • 9 (official reports)
  • 100+ (dissident claims)
Arrested1,600+ (dissident claims)
Ghulja is the capital of Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture

The Ghulja incident (Chinese: 伊宁事件; pinyin: Yīníng Shìjiàn; also referred to as the Ghulja Massacre)[1] was the culmination of the Ghulja protests of 1997, a series of demonstrations[2] in the city of Ghulja (known as Yining (伊宁) in Chinese) in the Xinjiang autonomous region of China (PRC) beginning in early February 1997.


During the 1980s the practice of Meshrep had become increasing popular in Xinjiang amongst Uyghur youth. The cultural practice, which involves music, dance, and poetry, was seen by the state as a positive influence in the region. However, towards the middle of the 1990s the Chinese authorities began to see the Meshrep movement as a threat. In 1996 Abduhelil Abdurahman, a prominent organiser of Meshrep meetings, was jailed and subsequently beaten to death whilst in custody by the authorities in Xinjiang as part of the "Strike Hard" campaign[citation needed]. Meshrep attendees became a primary target of the "Strike Hard" campaign.[3]


The protests were sparked partly by the news of the execution of 30 Uyghur independence activists.[4] Another cause was the arrest of a group of women taking part in a Meshrep on 3 February 1997,[3] as well as the general crackdown on attempts to revive elements of traditional Uyghur culture, including traditional gatherings known as meshrep.[5] On 5 February 1997, after two days of protests during which the protesters had marched shouting "God is great" and "independence for Xinjiang"[6] and had reportedly been dispersed using clubs, water cannon, and tear gas,[7] the several demonstrators were killed by the Chinese Army gunfire.[7] Official reports put the death toll at 9,[8] while dissident reports estimated the number killed at more than 100[4] and even as many as 167.


Some of the Uyghurs involved in this incident fled from China to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but were detained by the U.S. military and handed over to the Pakistani government during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and were imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.[9] During incarceration, Chinese officials have visited Guantanamo to participate in interrogations,[9] and the According to U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine, Chinese officials and U.S. military interrogators also allegedly collaborated on a human rights violation called the "Frequent Flyer Program," which interrupted his sleep every 15 minutes.[10][11]

According to dissident sources, as many as 1,600 people[4] were arrested on charges of intending to "split the motherland", conducting criminal activity, fundamental religious activity, and counter-revolutionary activities following the crackdown[12] carried out in the years immediately following the incident in Xinjiang, overwhelmingly against Uyghurs. Rebiya Kadeer, who witnessed the Ghulja Incident, went on to become leader of the World Uyghur Congress.

On February 5, 2014, the Uyghur American Association organized a demonstration in front of the Embassy of China in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre.[13]

After the 2017 crack-down in Xinjiang, large numbers of Uyghurs released after serving long sentences due to participating in the incident have subsequently found themselves re-arrested and sentenced to long sentences or sent to the Xinjiang internment camps. Witnesses of the incident as well as family-members, friends, and associates have also been rounded up and imprisoned.[14]

See also


  1. ^ "Protest marks Xinjiang 'massacre'". Al Jazeera. February 6, 2007.
  2. ^ "Xinjiang to intensify crackdown on separatists", China Daily, 10/25/2001
  3. ^ a b Irwin, Peter (March 2, 2017). "Remembering the Ghulja Incident: 20th Anniversary of 'Uyghur Tiananmen' Passes With Little Notice". The Diplomat. Retrieved March 5, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c "Gulja Massacre". Channel 4 (UK). 1997. Archived from the original on December 20, 2021.
  5. ^ "China: Remember the Gulja massacre? China's crackdown on peaceful protesters". Amnesty International.
  6. ^ "China's 'war on terror'". BBC News. September 10, 2002.
  7. ^ a b "Uighur Developments in the 1990s". Global Security. 2008.
  8. ^ "China Uighurs executed". BBC News. January 27, 1998.
  9. ^ a b "The Guantanamo 22". Aljazeera. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  10. ^ House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight, hearing on the FBI's role at Guantanamo Bay prison, June 4, 2008
  11. ^ "180 Hours of Intermittent Sleep No Problem": US Government Torture Revealed/|title="180 Hours of Intermittent Sleep No Problem": US Government Torture Revealed WIRED
  12. ^ A report by Amnesty International documented as many as 190 execution "Gross Violations of Human Rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region". Amnesty International. 1999.
  13. ^ "Uyghur American Association - Ghulja Massacre Protest". February 13, 2014. Archived from the original on December 20, 2021. Retrieved May 7, 2020 – via YouTube.
  14. ^ Hoshur, Shohret (February 16, 2021). "Uyghur Who Served 18 Years in Jail After Ghulja Incident Again Handed 18-Year Sentence". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved March 5, 2021.