East Turkestan, known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, is located in northwest China. In the early 20th century, Uighurs used the name East Turkestan as an appellation for the whole of Xinjiang. The Uighur people reject the name Xinjiang since China aims to destroy the historical heritage of the Muslim population by changing the names of cities. Xinjang in Chinese means "gained territories." Therefore, the Uighur people prefer to use East Turkestan to emphasize connection to other westerly Turkic groups.
In 1921, China officially defined Uyghurs, the sedentary Turkic people from Chinese Turkestan, as part of their nation building policy in Central Asia. Multiple rebellions arose against China in the early 1930s throughout the region led by Chinese Muslims. In the Kashgar region on Nov. 12, 1933, Uyghurs declared the short-lived and self-proclaimed East Turkestan Republic. It is home to a number of ethnic groups including the Uighurs, Hans and Kazakhs.
The Uighur people have long suffered from human rights abuses, as 26.3 million people were killed between 1949-1965 and 8.7 million people have been killed since 1965. About 35 million people died because of the Chinese army's oppression or famine. China has applied the one-child policy since 1985. Chinese officials force women who have more than one child to have abortions. Wearing a headscarf in public, including on public transportation and when getting married in a religious ceremony, were banned in 2014, with fines of about TL 960 for wearing a headscarf in public. Radical behaviors are banned. The Chinese define not drinking alcohol, non-smoking and avoiding eating non-halal food as radical behaviors.
Chinese oppression of the Muslims of East Turkestan increases, especially in Ramadan. Public servants are banned from attending Ramadan iftar meals. According to local sources, if Muslims break the rule, they face the risk of loosing their jobs. Officials force Muslim restaurants to remain open all day in Ramadan.
The Chinese arrested Muslim youths for attending a religious ceremony in 1997. Then, some 15,000 East Turkestanis demonstrated to protest China and demanded the release of the arrested Muslim youths in Ghulja.
According to the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) reports, at least 100 were killed, and some 4,000 people were taken into custody. Also according to Amnesty International, some 90 people were untried but sentenced to life imprisonment by the court. Following the incident, one international NGO demanded the establishment of a commission to research the Ghulja massacre, but it was rejected by Chinese officials.
On June 26, 2005, two Uyghur workers at a toy factory were beaten to death by Chinese workers in Shaoguan, Guangdong (according to eyewitnesses, the number of deaths was 20). Then, tens of thousands of Uyghur Muslims hit the streets led by undergrads. The Chinese army fired into the crowd to disperse the protestors. According to Chinese media, 184 were killed and 1,680 were wounded in Urumqi. Also, some 1,400 Uyghurs were arrested. But according to Uyghur sources, at least 1,000 were killed. Moreover, World Uyghur Congress (WUC) leader Rabiye Kadir claimed that the number of deaths was 3,000.
The international community did not react strongly enough over the "Urumqi Massacre." The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Right (OHCHR) expressed its concern about incidents in East Turkestan. The EU and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) called on the parties to stay calm. Also, statements by the U.S., France and Russia were not effective. The Turkish Prime Ministry described the events as "savageness" and called on the international community to demand that those responsible must be put on trial. Calls by Amnesty and the HRW to investigate the events were left unanswered by Chinese officials.
A professor of economy from Peking University, Ilham Tohti, was taken into custody in January 2014 for criticizing Chinese policy. He was not allowed to communicate with his relatives. He was tried in a non-public court in Urumqi. The court confiscated his property and sentenced him to life inprisonment.
According to a Uyghur Human Rights Project report, 700 people were killed due to political activities last year. The number of arrests increased by 95 percent compared to the previous year, reaching 27,000. The number of those sentenced to execution and life imprisonment increased by 50 percent in the last six months. Chinese officials continue to censor media in the region, with no freedom for reflecting in the press.
Over the massacres, NGOs in Turkey, including the East Turkestan Education and Solidarity Association, the East Turkistan Foundation, the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World, the East Turkestan Youth and Culture Association and the East Turkestan Immigrants Association held a joint press conference in Istanbul. They said: "The international community did nothing, did not react to the oppressive practices of China in East Turkestan and its settlement policies. The Chinese media distorted its reports of the events to the world. As in similar events before, Chinese media described the events as acts of organized terror. We want NGOs in Turkey, the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the EU and Human Rights Watch (HRW) to ask China for information on the events, send an independent delegation to the region and force China to end its oppressive policies."
Chinese police have previously captured or killed ethnic Uyghurs from the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang who have tried to cross to other countries. In a recent incident, Chinese police shot dead two Uyghurs on the border with Vietnam, part of a group of people trying to sneak out of the country. Chinese authorities said that they worry that Uyghurs go abroad to link up with militants, but human rights groups said Uyghurs are fleeing persecution under harsh government policies.