From the ESCAS Board: Statement on the detentions and deaths of Central Asian Muslims in ‘re-education centres’ in Xinjiang, China.

5. June 2019

[For a Russian translation, see here.]

15 May 2019

The European Society for Central Asian Studies expresses its dismay over the detention of up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and others of mainly Central Asian origin in political “re-education centers” in Xinjiang, Northwest China.[1] These individuals have been interned, imprisoned, or forcibly “disappeared” since April 2017.[2] Furthermore, the wider use of surveillance and artificial intelligence technology to control the population causes us deep concern.[3] Such detention and control measures constitute major violations of human rights,[4] and, in the case of our academic colleagues, a clear disregard for academic freedom.

We are particularly dismayed at the disappearance of at least 435 Uyghur intellectuals and scholars, among whom 125 are students and 77 are university instructors from institutions including Xinjiang University, Xinjiang Normal University, Kashgar University, Xinjiang Medical University, Xinjiang Social Sciences Academy and Khotan Teachers’ College.[5] Among them is our colleague Professor Rahile Dawut, world-renowned scholar of Uyghur studies and internationally recognized expert in Uyghur folklore and traditions.[6]Meanwhile, economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was recently awarded the Freedom Award for highlighting religious and cultural persecution in Xinjiang and calling for understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, is serving a life sentence for alleged ‘ethnic separatism’.[7]

Uyghurs and others of mainly Central Asian origin have been denied the freedom to use their mother tongue, to pursue Qur’anic studies, or to study and research abroad.[8] Those returning to China from periods of study or research have been recalled, detained, questioned, or caused to disappear into internment camps.[9] At least 49 deaths in custody (or occurring shortly after release) have been confirmed during this period. Of these, nine were intellectuals, including religious scholars Muhammad Salih Hajim and Abdulehed Mehsum; scholars Hamit Himit, Abdusattar Qarahajim, Erkinjan Abdukerim and Ehet Aman; and students Abdusalam Mamat, Yasinjan and Mutellip Nurmehmet.[10]

The European Society for Central Asian Studies is a non-political, non-profit international academic association comprising some 1,000 members [check] and committed to the free and open dissemination of knowledge in and about Central Asia. We are a global community whose work thrives on active interaction between scholars and students from around the world.

We condemn these detentions in Xinjiang and strongly urge the Chinese government to ensure the safe return of our colleagues and their students. It is the view of the board of the European Society for Central Asian Studies that the actions taking place in Xinjiang puts international academic cooperation with Chinese institutions and scholars into jeopardy and raises profound moral questions for foreign academics that wish to work with Chinese colleagues in Central Asian Studies.

The ESCAS Board.

[1] Adrian Zenz (2019) ‘”Thoroughly reforming them towards a healthy heart attitude”: China’s political re-education campaign in Xinjiang’, Central Asian Survey, 38.1, 102-128,

DOI: 10.1080/02634937.2018.1507997; ‘1.5 million Muslims could be detained in China’s Xinjiang: academic’, 13 March 2019,

[2] Joanne Smith Finley (ed.) Special Issue on Securitization, insecurity and conflict in contemporary Xinjiang, Central Asian Survey, 38.1 (2019),; Sean R. Roberts (2018), ‘The biopolitics of China’s “war on terror” and the exclusion of the Uyghurs’, Critical Asian Studies, 50:2, 232-258, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2018.1454111.

[3]James A. Millward, ‘What it’s like to live in a surveillance state’, 3 February 2018,; Darren Byler, ‘China’s hi-tech war on its Muslim minority’, 11 April 2019,; Human Rights Watch, ’China’s Algorithms of Repression: Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App’, 1 May 2019,

[4] Violated rights include: the right to life, liberty and security (Art.3); the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Art.5); the right to equal protection of the law without discrimination (Art.7); the right to be free from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile (Art.9); the right to a fair and public hearing in the determination of criminal charges (Art.10); the right to be free from arbitrary interference with one’s privacy, family, home or correspondence (Art.12); the right to leave and return to one’s own country (Art.13); the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art.18); and the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Art.19),

[5] Uyghur Human Rights Project report on the disappearance and detention of Uyghur intellectuals, 25 March 2019,; ‘UPDATE – Detained and Disappeared: Intellectuals Under Assault in the Uyghur Homeland’, Uyghur Human Rights Project, .

[6] Scholars at Risk Network,

[7]‘Jailed Uyghur Scholar Ilham Tohti Receives Freedom House’s “Freedom Award”’,

[8] Darren Byler, ‘The “patriotism” of not speaking Uyghur’, Supchina, 2 Jan 2019,

[9] Special Correspondent, ‘A summer vacation in China’s Muslim gulag: How one university student was almost buried by the “people’s war on terror”’, Foreign Policy, 28 Feb 2018,

[10] Xinjiang Victims Database, Deaths (2017 – ),; ‘Two Uyghur students die in China’s custody following voluntary return from Egypt’, Radio Free Asia, 21 Dec 2017,; Uyghur Human Rights Project, ‘Uyghur Human Rights Project condemns death in custody of scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim’, 29 Jan 2018,