Mass Detentions in Xinjiang Persist on 27th Anniversary of Ghulja Massacre


February 6, 2024 | China Digital Times

Underlying the protests and the violence that followed were starkly differing views on meshrep. The Uyghur Human Rights Project published a report last February that demonstrated how the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang constitute what UNESCO calls “strategic cultural cleansing,” by co-opting, distorting, and destroying Uyghur cultural heritage. One section of the report discussed the evolution of state policies towards meshrep in Xinjiang:

Meshrep, an umbrella term for Uyghur community gatherings that typically include food, music, joking and storytelling, and an informal community court, was added to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2010. Both before and after the nomination, grassroots community Meshrep gatherings have been designated by the Chinese authorities as criminal activities, Meshrep leaders and participants have been arbitrarily detained, and Uyghur communities which formerly nurtured Meshrep have been uprooted. In their place, staged Meshrep shows have been used as tourist entertainment and for cultural diplomacy.

China’s “safeguarding” of the Meshrep involves separating the practice from its community roots and promoting versions that serve national and regional policy goals. Safeguarding Meshrep, as that term is understood in the Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention as presupposing the “widest possible community participation,” is impossible under current conditions in the Uyghur region since all forms of civil assembly are regarded as suspicious. State security measures are directly hostile to the sustainability of grassroots Meshrep, precisely because of its role in creating meaningful local community. [Source]

For The Diplomat this week, Uyghur Human Rights Project Executive Director Omer Kanat wrote about the throughline between the Ghulja Massacre and more recent abuse of Uyghurs, noting that the early warning signs were ignored by the world:

In the intervening 20 years [since the founding of the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the World Uyghur Congress in 2004], Uyghur activists have had one consistent message. If the United Nations, governments, legislators, investors, and academics kept up their continuing engagement with China, despite deteriorating human rights conditions, this would only embolden Beijing. 

But governments ignored these warnings, and imposed no consequences on the Chinese government. It continued to imprison and execute Uyghurs on political charges, close spaces of religious practice and expression, impose tighter and tighter prohibitions on the use of Uyghur as a language of instruction in schools, exclude Uyghurs from economic life, and dispossess people from land and property. The massacres of protesters also continued, such as those in Ürümchi (July 2009), Hanerik (June 2013), Seriqbuya (April 2013), Alaqagha (May 2014), and Elishqu (July 2014). 

Let me be clear: China is responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in the Uyghur region. The fact that the outside world didn’t act was a failure of our systems to catch atrocities. The issue is pertinent to all of us. Our failure has made the world safer for genocidaires. What happened to the Uyghurs should become a lesson learned so that we can forestall future genocides before it is too late. [Source]

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