Former President of Xinjiang University Sentenced to Possible Execution for Separatism

Tashpolat Tiyip in Paris, during a ceremony to receive an honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne in November 2008. Photo:

Dr. Tashpolat Tiyip, former President of Xinjiang University has been tried and sentenced for separatism. Sentence was for a deferred execution. Dr. Tiyip is an internationally renowned geographer.

September 20, 2019

President Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic of China
Xichengqu, Beijing Shi 100017

Your Excellency:

The Committee of Concerned Scientists (“CCS”) is an independent organization of scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and scientific freedom for colleagues all over the world. For almost 50 years CCS has been helping persecuted scholars overcome injustice and return to their academic work.

We are writing in regard to renowned scholar, and former President of Xinjiang University, Tashpolat Tiyip.  In March of 2017 Dr. Tiyip was removed from his position as President of Xinjiang University and disappeared.  It is our understanding that he was accompanying students to Germany for a conference when he was detained at the airport in Beijing.  In 2018 it was learned that Dr. Tiyip had been tried for “separatism” and convicted.  A suspended death sentence was issued with a two-year reprieve. 

Background on Dr. Tiyip: 

Tiyip graduated from high school in 1975 and was most interested in Geography, despite being a very talented athlete.  Once employed he saved and purchased a Uyghur-Chinese dictionary and studied it regularly until he could speak Chinese fluently.  When possible, he took the first national college entrance exam and received an offer to study Sports Education, but since he loved geography, he decided to study that instead so that he could help his community in regard to water management and agronomy.  In 1978 he passed the exam and was able to attend Xinjiang University in the Geography Department.  When he graduated he took a job teaching there.  In 1988 he was admitted to the graduate program at the Tokyo University of Science, finished his requirements in four years and earned a Doctorate of Engineering in Applied Geography.  In 1992 he became the first Uyghur to earn a Ph.D. in geography in Xinjiang. 

Dr. Tiyip has published 6 books, written more than 200 scholarly articles, led 17 national and international research projects.  He worked on the remote sensing assessment of the impact of salinization, environmental change and human activities in the Taklimakan Desert, many of which were published in multiple languages. 

His leadership at Xinjiang University was outstanding and he eventually became Chair of the Geography Department.  He was then promoted to Vice President of the University, a position he held for 14 years before becoming President.  He was also Vice Secretary of the Communist Party at the University.  He was widely praised for his development of the university before his detention in 2017.  He built close relationships with other university leaders in numerous other countries, and was praised internationally for his work. 

Dr. Tiyip has a wife to whom he has been married for 36 years who is also a professor and one daughter who has also pursued a career in geography.  He has seemingly made a great contribution to the Chinese scientific community. 

We, therefore, are asking you to review this case and encourage the authorities to halt the execution of Dr. Tiyip, release him unconditionally, and drop all charges against him and allow him return to his life that is productive for the betterment of scientific study, but especially to communities in China. 

Thank you for your attention to this very important matter and we look forward to a response from you shortly.


Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich, Eugene M. Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer

Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists


The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC  20520

The Honorable Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

The Honorable Wang Yi

Minister of Foreign Affairs
People’s Republic of China
No. 2, Chaoyangmen Nandajie
Chaoyang District, Beijing 100701

Ambassador Terry Branstad

U.S. Embassy & Consulates in China
U.S. Embassy Beijing
55 Anjialou Road, Chaoyang District
Beijing, China 100600

The Honorable H.E. Cui Tiankai

Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the United States
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
3505 International Place, NW
Washington, DC  20008

Chen Quanguo Shuji

Party Secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
479 Zhongshanlu
Urumqi, Xinjiang
People’s Republic of China