The Persecution of the Intellectuals in the Uyghur Region: Disappeared Forever?

October 22, 2018

Uyghur Human Rights Project report by Henryk Szadziewski. Read our press statement on the report here, and download the full report here.

I. The Persecution of Intellectuals in China’s Campaign of Uyghur Repression

Most commonly, people who had incurred the displeasure of the Party simply disappeared and were never heard of again.

George Orwell, 1984

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has identified 231 Uyghur intellectuals known to have disappeared, to have been taken into internment camps, or to have died in custody in China, from April 2017 through September 2018. Because of the secrecy surrounding the detention of a million or more people in camps, and the severe punishment meted out to anyone who contacts international media or other individuals overseas, this list likely represents a small proportion of those detained. Included in this report are brief profiles of 14 academics and students detained prior to April 2017 provide additional context. UHRP makes 18 recommendations for urgent action to address the grave human rights violations affecting Uyghur intellectuals.

Since the spring of 2017, the Chinese government has interned over a million Uyghurs in camps.1Zenz, A. (2018). New Evidence for China’s Political Re-Education Campaign in Xinjiang [online] Jamestown Foundation Available at: https://jamestown.org/program/evidence-for-chinas-political-reeducation-campaign-inxinjiang/ [Accessed 22 Aug. 2018]. Credible reports describe deaths, torture, and systemic political indoctrination in these facilities. Another two million people, according to estimates, are forced to attend day and evening ‘study sessions.’2Chinese Human Rights Defenders (2018). China: Massive Numbers of Uyghurs & Other Ethnic Minorities Forced into Re-education Programs. [online] Chinese Human Rights Defenders. Available at: https://www.nchrd.org/2018/08/china-massive-numbers-of-uyghurs-other-ethnic-minorities-forced-into-reeducation-programs/ [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018]. More facilities are being built. No Uyghur is safe from the camps: farmers, store keepers, religious figures, artists, soccer players, local government workers, women, men, children, teenagers, the elderly are among the interned.

The government has specifically targeted Uyghur intellectuals as part of the campaign. Dozens of well-known professors and scholars have been suddenly taken away without charge or trial. The internment and imprisonment of Uyghur academics and students signals a perilous shift toward totalitarianism in East Turkestan (aka Xinjiang).

The Chinese Communist Party has a history of persecuting Uyghur intellectuals, including the unjust imprisonment of Uyghur historian Tohti Tunyaz in 2000 and poet Nurmemet Yasin in 2005, who reportedly died in custody in 2012,3Uyghur American Association (2013). UAA Urges China to Immediately Release Information on Nurmemet Yasin’s Condition. [online] Uyghur American Association. Available at: https://uyghuramerican.org/article/uaa-urges-china-immediately-release-information-nurmemet-yasin-scondition.html. Rumors of Nurmemet Yasin’s death in custody was also reported in 2007 and 2009 (see: https://www.hrichina.org/en/content/991 and http://www.uyghurpen.org/author-biography.html). among many others. As Human Rights Watch points out, these prisoners of conscience are victims of an “official policy that criticism or minority expression in art and literature can be deemed a disguised form of secessionism, its author a criminal or even ‘terrorist.’”4Human Rights Watch (2001). Devastating Blows. [online] Human Rights Watch. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/china0405/4.htm

The latest assault on intellectuals, however, represents a significant escalation of ethnic persecution, as even Uyghurs loyal to the state and party are now subject to absurd allegations such as harboring separatist tendencies and desiring the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

The current totalitarian measures in East Turkestan’s universities occur as the Chinese state moves to control intangible Uyghur cultural heritage, such as music, dance, literature, and history. The Chinese government seeks to frame Uyghur cultural and intellectual production as small parts of Chinese heritage, allowing them to take only narrow officially defined forms.5Uyghur Human Rights Project (2018). Extracting Cultural Resources: the Exploitation and Criminalization of Uyghur Cultural Heritage. [online] Uyghur Human Rights Project. Available at: https://uhrp.org/press-release/extracting-cultural-resources-exploitation-and-criminalization-uyghurcultural [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018]. As Georgetown University professor James Millward has put it, “cultural cleansing is Beijing’s attempt to find a final solution to the Xinjiang problem.”6Shih, G. (2018). China’s mass indoctrination camps evoke Cultural Revolution. [online] AP News. Available at: https://apnews.com/6e151296fb194f85ba69a8babd972e4b [Accessed 19 Sep. 2018].

This briefing profiles Uyghur academics and students interned and imprisoned since 2017. The cases illustrate the alarming scale and global nature of the crackdown, reaching hundreds of Uyghurs both in East Turkestan and overseas.

UHRP calls on the government of China to immediately release all scholars, writers, artists, and students arbitrarily detained and at risk of harsh mistreatment, including torture. UHRP urges governments and academic institutions around the world to vigorously press the Chinese government for information about the whereabouts and well-being of disappeared and detained academics and intellectuals. A full list of recommended actions is detailed below.

II. Crackdown on Uyghur Scholars Since 2017: Profiles

Rahile Dawut

Prominent Uyghur scholar Rahile Dawut is a leading expert on Uyghur folklore and traditions at Xinjiang University whose work the Chinese state had sponsored. She left Urumchi for Beijing in December 2017 and has not been heard from since.7Buckley, C. and Ramzy, A. (2018). Star Scholar Disappears as Crackdown Engulfs Western China. [online] New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/world/asia/china-xinjiangrahile-dawut.html [Accessed 21 Aug. 2018].

Rahile Dawut ©Center for World Indigenous Studies

Professor Rahile’s colleagues around the world have mounted an international campaign for her release.8See The Xinjiang Initiative website: https://xinjianginitiative.wixsite.com/xjinitiative The group Concerned Scholars of Xinjiang has called for the immediate release of Rahile Dawut and requests China to “allow her to either a) continue her position at Xinjiang University or b) assume a post outside of China.”9Concerned Scholars of Xinjiang (2018). Petition for the Immediate Release of Professor Rahile Dawut and other Uyghur scholars. [online] Change.org. Available at:
https://www.change.org/p/xi-jinping-petition-for-the-immediate-release-of-professor-rahile-dawut-andother-uyghur-scholars [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].
On August 13, 2018, the American Anthropological Association published a letter of concern addressed to U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad and urged the “US Embassy in Beijing to do what you can to locate and offer protection to Dr. Dawut.”10American Anthropological Association (2018). Letter of Concern Over the Disappearance of Rahile Dawut. [online] American Anthropological Association. Available at:
https://www.americananthro.org/ParticipateAndAdvocate/AdvocacyDetail.aspx?ItemNumber=24182. [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].
In an article for the London Review of Books author Nick Holdstock called Rahile’s disappearance “part of a strategy, long in gestation, to eradicate all forms of dissent in Xinjiang by either brainwashing or intimidation.”11Holdstock, N. (2018). Where is Rahile Dawut?. [online] LRB Blog. Available at: https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2018/08/16/nick-holdstock/where-is-rahile-dawut/ [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].

Dr. Rachel Harris, lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, told University World News: “There is a very clear pattern that Uighur academics who have been researching Uighur culture, and those with international contacts have been targeted…[Rahile] has a very strong network of colleagues abroad. Universities in America invited her as a visiting scholar, she published internationally. If she had been another ethnicity in China, had she been Han Chinese, all this would have been extremely positive. But because she was Uighur, she was regarded as a threat.”12Sharma, Y. (2018). Scholars targeted as Uighur purge engulfs universities. [online] University World News. Available at: http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20180928160408284 [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Abdukerim Rahman, Azat Sultan, Gheyretjan Osman, and Arslan Abdulla

Four of Rahile Dawut’s colleagues at Xinjiang University are also reported as being held in internment camps. Abdukerim Rahman, Azat Sultan and Gheyretjan Osman are literature professors and Arslan Abdulla is a language professor. Abdukerim is in his 80s and Arslan in his 70s. Officials at Xinjiang University neither confirmed nor denied details of the academics’ detention.13Hoshur, S. and Lipes, J. (2018). Five Uyghur Professors from Xinjiang University Held in Political ‘Reeducation Camps’. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/professors-09182018151339.html [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018]. In a report dated September 24, 2018, Radio Free Asia (RFA) described how Azat Sultan had been investigated for being a “two-faced” academic, a term applied to office holders who pay lip service to party ideology.14Hoshur, S. and Lipes, J. (2018). Uyghur Former Xinjiang University Vice President Detained For ‘TwoFaced’ Tendencies. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/professor-09242018164800.html [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018]. See also: https://thediplomat.com/2018/10/turn-in-the-two-faced-the-plight-of-uyghur-intellectuals/

Azat Sultan ©Radio Free Asia
Abdukerim Rahman (L) Arslan Abdulla (R) ©Radio Free Asia

In detailed profile of Abdukerim Rahman, Amy Anderson wrote: “it was hard to see the logic behind Rahman’s criminalization since his teaching and research had little to do with religion…he had been accepted and celebrated by the Chinese party-state for over 50 years. How could a man could be celebrated until the age of 77 and then suddenly charged as a ‘two-faced’ person out of nowhere? Where is his second ‘face’?”15Anderson, A. and Byler, D. (2018). How is Abdukerim Rahman surviving without his books?. [online] art of life in chinese central asia. Available at: https://livingotherwise.com/2018/10/02/abdukerim-rahmansurviving-without-books/ [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].

Erkin Omer, Muhter Abdughopur, Qurban Osman, and Gulnar Obul

Erkin Omer ©Radio Free Asia

Four administrators and academics from Kashgar University have been removed from their posts for exhibiting “two-faced” tendencies. The names of Kashgar University’s president Erkin Omer, vice president Muhter Abdughopur, and professors Qurban Osman and Gulnar Obul have been deleted from the institution’s website. Sources in Kashgar told reporters they were unsure if the four individuals were at home or detained in internment camps.16Hoshur, S. and Lipes, J. (2018). Xinjiang’s Kashgar University Sacks Four ‘Two-Faced’ Uyghur Professors. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/professors09192018144118.html [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Gulnar Obul ©Radio Free Asia

Abdulqadir Jalaleddin

bdulqadir Jalaleddin @Radio Free Asia

Police raided the home of Abdulqadir Jalaleddin, a professor, philosopher, and poet based at Xinjiang Normal University, in January 2018.17World Uyghur Congress (2018). Abdulqadir Jalaleddin, Notable Uyghur Writer and Scholar, Arrested by Chinese Police. [online] World Uyghur Congress. Available at: http://www.uyghurcongress.org/en/?p=34370 [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018] To date no formal charges have been made against Professor Abdulqadir and it is believed he is interned in a political indoctrination camp.18Hoshur, S. and Lipes, J. (2018). Prominent Uyghur Scholar Detained in Xinjiang Capital Urumqi: Official. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/scholar04252018140407.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018]. In a May 20, 2018 letter addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Committee of Concerned Scientists wrote: “We are deeply concerned for the physical well-being of Abdulqadir Jalaleddin, as the use of incommunicado detention often results in torture or ill-treatment of prisoners.”19Committee of Concerned Scientists (2018). Uyghur Writer and Scholar Arrested and Sent to ReEducation Camp. [online] Committee of Concerned Scientists. Available at: https://concernedscientists.org/2018/05/uyghur-writer-and-scholar-arrested-and-sent-to-re-education-camp/ [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Halmurat Ghopur, Tashpolat Tiyip, Satar Sawut, and Yalqun Rozi

bdulqadir Jalaleddin @RadiHalmurat Ghopur ©Radio Free Asiao Free Asia

Halmurat Ghopur, president of the Xinjiang Food and Drug Administration’s Department of Inspection and Supervision and former president of Xinjiang Medical University Hospital, has been detained in an undisclosed location since November 2017. In January 2018, a Uyghur exile based in Norway suggested that his detention may have been triggered by messages Halmurat had received via a messaging app from a student currently overseas. Halmurat “had kept some of their correspondence on his phone without deleting it.”20Niyaz, K. and Lipes, J. (2018). Chinese Authorities Arrest Xinjiang Intellectual Amid Crackdown on Prominent Uyghurs. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at:
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/arrest01122018152937.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018].
Halmurat is an internationally recognized scientist whose work has been honored by the Chinese government.

In a follow-up article published on September 28, 2018, RFA noted that police alleged the messages contained “nationalistic tendencies.” The article added that Halmurat had been handed a two-year suspended death sentence and authorities claimed he “planned to create an independent country according to his own wishes and become its leader… During the past 33 years he had this hidden intention.”

RFA reporters discovered Halmurat’s sentencing through a state-produced film that also included information on “four other high-ranking Uyghur intellectuals who were sentenced to punishments of either death or life in prison.”21Hoshur, S. and Lipes, J. (2018). Prominent Uyghur Intellectual Given Two-Year Suspended Death Sentence For ‘Separatism’. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at:
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/sentence-09282018145150.html [Accessed 3 Oct 2018].
One of the four included former president of Xinjiang University Tashpolat Tiyip. Tashpolat was sentenced to death with two-year reprieve on “separatism” charges. In write-up of the case advocacy group China Change noted Professor Tashpolat “was born in 1958, a scientist in geoscience and remote sensing, and enjoyed a special allowance for experts by the State Council. He was dismissed in March 31, 2017, and that probably was also the time when he was arrested.”22China Change (2018). Tashpolat Tiyip. [online] China Change. Available at: https://chinachange.org/tag/tashpolat-tiyip/ [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018]. See also https://twitter.com/Uyghurspeaker/status/1048228219164545025 and
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/university-president-02202018173959.html).

Tashpolat Tayip ©Radio Free Asia

The remaining two Uyghur intellectuals seen on the film were named by RFA in an October 10, 2018 article. Former director of the Xinjiang Education Supervision Bureau Satar Sawut was handed a two-year suspended death penalty and writer Yalqun Rozi received a life sentence for “inciting separatism.”23Radio Free Asia Uyghur Service and Eckert, P. (2018). Three Uyghur Intellectuals Jailed for Separatism, Political Study Film Reveals. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at:
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/intellectuals-jailed-10102018172605.html [Accessed 11 Oct.
2018].

Religious scholars Muhammad Salih Hajim and Abdulnehed Mehsum

On January 29, 2018, the UHRP received confirmation from relatives of Muhammad Salih Hajim regarding his death in an internment camp. The prominent Koranic scholar and Uyghur religious leader was 82-years old. The exact circumstances of his death are unknown, but he was taken into custody toward the end of 2017, along with his daughter, Nezire Muhammad Salih and other relatives.24Uyghur Human Rights Project (2018). Uyghur Human Rights Project Condemns Death in Custody of Scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim. [online] UHRP. Available at: https://uhrp.org/press-release/uyghurhuman-rights-projectcondemns-death-custody-scholar-muhammad-salih-hajim.html [Accessed 29 Jun.
2018].

Muhammad Salih Hajim ©Radio Free Asia

Family friends also disclosed how almost all of Muhammad Salih Hajim’s family has been interned in one of China’s political indoctrination camps or harassed by police. Nezire’s husband Adil Tuniyaz, a well-known poet, has been charged along with his wife of “promoting terrorism and religious extremism.” Three of the couple’s children have been placed into state orphanages. A second daughter of Muhammad Salih Hajim, Asiye Mehmet, a Chinese language lecturer at Xinjiang University, has also been detained.25Kashgary, J. and Lipes, J. (2018). Xinjiang Authorities Detain Almost Every Family Member of Late Uyghur Muslim Scholar. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/scholar-09252018145144.html [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018]. Scholars at Risk highlighted Muhammad Salih Hajim’s death and urged Chinese “state authorities to clarify the circumstances of the scholar’s death, and otherwise ensure a prompt, independent, and transparent investigation, and release his body to family.”26Scholars at Risk (2017). Muhammad Salih Hajim. [online] Scholars at Risk. Available at: https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/report/2017-12-01-unaffiliated/ [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Abdulnehed Mehsum ©World Uyghur Congress

Abdulnehed Mehsum, 88, died while being held in an internment camp in Hotan prefecture in November 2017, though his death was not reported until May 27, 2018. Abdulnehed was a noted religious scholar.27World Uyghur Congress (2018). WUC Confirms Death in Custody of Yet Another Uyghur Religious Scholar Abdulehed Mehsum. [online] World Uyghur Congress. Available at:
http://www.uyghurcongress.org/en/?p=34630 [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018].
The cases of Muhammad Salih Hajim and Abdulnehed Mehsum were raised by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe at the European Parliament in an October 2, 2018 motion for a resolution.28Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (2018). Motion for a Resolution on Mass Arbitrary Detention of Uyghurs and Kazakhs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. [online] European Parliament. Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&reference=B8-2018-0465&format=XML&language=EN [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Other Academics, Writers, and Intellectuals

Qutluq Almas, a former lecturer at Xinjiang University now in exile in the United States, has reported that “at least 56 Uyghur lecturers and researchers from Xinjiang University are currently held in re-education camps.”29Hoshur, S. and Lipes, J. (2018). Five Uyghur Professors from Xinjiang University Held in Political ‘Reeducation Camps’. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/professors-09182018151339.html [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018]. Dr. Nijat Sopi, a lecturer since 2002 at Yili Normal University was removed from his position and interned in a camp along with an undisclosed number of his colleagues in January.30Radio Free Asia Uyghur Service (2018). Ili pédagogika instituti: “Doktor nijat sopi mekteptin qoghlandi”. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/uyghur/xewerler/maarip/uyghurziyaliy-10082018175214.html?encoding=latin [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].

Aziz Isa, secretary of the Uyghur PEN Centre has compiled the following list of Uyghur academics and intellectuals held in internment camps and sentenced to imprisonment before and after 2017.31See the Facebook feed of Aziz Isa at: https://www.facebook.com/aziz.isa Because of the secrecy surrounding the detention of a million or more people in camps, and the severe punishment meted out to anyone who contacts international media of individuals overseas, the PEN list likely represents a small proportion of those detained.32See also a video produced by the Torchlight Uyghur Group of prominent Uyghurs sentenced or sent to internment camps: https://www.facebook.com/torchuyghur/videos/1756245034488297/

Xinjiang University Academics:

  • Rahile Dawut
  • Tashpolat Tiyip
  • Arslan Abdulla
  • Azat Sultan
  • Abdukerim Rahman
  • Gheyretjan Osman
  • Zulpiqar Barat Ozbash
  • Nebijan Hebibulla

Xinjiang University, Department of Computer Science Academics:

  • Dilmurat Turun
  • Batur Eysa
  • Rahim Rehmutulla
  • Erkin Imirbaqi
  • Nurbiye

Xinjiang Normal University Academics:

  • Abdubesir Shukri
  • Abduqadir Jalaleddin
  • Yunus Ebeydulla
  • Ababekri
  • Nureli

Xinjiang Medical University Academics:

  • Halmurat Ghopur
  • Abbas Eset

Xinjiang Academy of Social Science Academics:

  • Abdurazaq Sayim
  • Kurash Tahir

Kashgar University Academics:

  • Gulnar Obul
  • Erkin Omer
  • Muhter Abdughopur
  • Qurban Osman
  • Erkin Oghuz
  • Matrehim Haji
  • Enwer Qadir
  • Enwer Ismayil

Academics at Other Institutions:

  • Nijat Sopi
  • Ablet Abdures
  • Memet Jume
  • Jelil Hajim Writers and Poets:
  • Yalqun Rozi
  • Abdulla Abdurehim

Bloggers and Writers Online:

  • Omerjan Hesen Bozqir

Artists:

  • Ablajan Awut Ayup

On September 28, 2018, RFA reported the suicide of Qeyser Qeyum, the editor-inchief of Literature Translation magazine, published under the Xinjiang Association of Literature and Art. Qeyser jumped out of the eighth floor of his office building out of fear he would be interned in a political indoctrination camp. Ilham Weli, deputy editor-inchief at the Xinjiang Daily, was arrested in July 2018 while “directors Memtimin Obul and Juret Haji, and Mirkamil Ablimit, the head of the subsidiary Xinjiang Farmer’s Daily, were denounced during a public meeting at the newspaper’s offices and taken away by police in early August.” Although no charges were specified in the RFA report on the incidents, Chinese authorities had accused the individuals of publishing “twofaced” articles. A former colleague of the four men told RFA: “I don’t see how they could possibly have said or written something critical of Beijing, although it is likely that some articles they were responsible for contained something that—while not antigovernment—the authorities didn’t like.”33Hoshur, S., Seytoff, A. and Lipes, J. (2018). Authorities Detain Uyghur Editor-in-Chief, Directors of Xinjiang Daily Newspaper. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at:
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/daily-09052018150310.html [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].
The Committee to Protect Journalists issued an alert on behalf of the four men on September 7. 2018.34Committee to Protect Journalists (2018). China arrests Uighur editor, newspaper directors for being ‘two-faced’. [online] Committee to Protect Journalists. Available at: https://cpj.org/2018/09/china-arrestsuighur-editor-newspaper-directors-fo.php [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018]. Abdurahman Abey, former director and Communist Party deputy secretary of the Xinjiang People’s Publishing House, was arrested in July 2018 on charges of “separatism and religious extremism activities.”35Hoshur, S. and Eckert, P. (2018) Prominent Uyghur Publisher Arrested, Under Investigation. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/abey-arrest-10152018172356.html [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018]

Kurban Mamaut © Bahram Kurban Sintash

On October 8, 2018, Bahram Kurban Sintash, a U.S. citizen, described the internment of his father Kurban Mamut in a political indoctrination camp. Kurban held a number of senior posts in the media, including Editor-in-Chief at Xinjiang Civilization, from 1985 to 2011. Bahram wrote: “There is no justifiable reason for the XUAR and the Chinese government to detain my father.”36Sintash (2018). An American son’s plea to save his father from Chinese Internment Camps. [online] Available at:
https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=547609852357180&id=428064030978430&tn
=K-R
[Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].
Leading press freedom monitors have unequivocally condemned China’s record on censorship and harassment of journalists. China ranks 176th worst for press freedom out of 180 states in Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2017 report placed China in the “Not Free” category. Freedom House also placed China in the “Not Free” category for its Freedom on the Net 2017 report. In its 2017 prison census, the Committee to Protect Journalists documented 41 journalists imprisoned in China (of them 14 are Uyghur).37Uyghur Human Rights Project (2018). China: End Intimidation of Radio Free Asia Uyghur Service Journalists. [online] UHRP. Available at: https://uhrp.org/press-release/china-end-intimidation-radio-freeasia-uyghur-service-journalists.html-0 [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].

Uyghur Students

In May 2017, reports described how Chinese authorities had ordered the return of Uyghurs students overseas by May 20. The order is known to have included students resident in Egypt, Turkey, France, Australia, and the United States. Students who spoke to journalists explained how Chinese officials had threatened their families with jail terms if they did not return home. Students who had already returned before the order were also arrested and held in internment camps.38Hoshur, S., Hoja, G., Sulaiman, E., Seytoff, A. and Juma, M. (2017). Uyghurs Studying Abroad Ordered Back to Xinjiang Under Threat to Families. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/ordered-05092017155554.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018].

Uyghur students in Egypt were a group of interest to China. By early July 2017, Egyptian intelligence and security assisted in the detention of up to 200 Uyghurs. Many of the Uyghurs were students of Arabic and Islamic theology at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University. One Uyghur student told RFA: “Anyone deported back to China will definitely be jailed.” Despite calls to the university for protection, 80 students were detained in a sweep on July 12, 2017.39Juma, M., Niyaz, K., Seytoff, A. and Finney, R. (2017). More Uyghurs Detained in Cairo as Students Appeal to Al-Azhar For Help. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at:
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/appeal07122017150212.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018]
Egyptian authorities began deporting Uyghurs to China in July 2017. As reported by The New York Times, 12 Uyghurs were forcibly returned on July 6, 2017 and another 22 Uyghurs’ deportations were pending at that time.40Youssef, N. and Buckley, C. (2017). Egyptian Police Detain Uighurs and Deport Them to China. [online] New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/06/world/asia/egypt-muslimsuighurs-deportationsxinjiang-china.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018].

According to a representative of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization “some 90 percent of the estimated 7,000 – 8,000 Uighurs living in Egypt had returned to China.”41Al Jazeera (2017). Egypt arrests Chinese Muslim students amid police sweep. [online] Aljazeera.com. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/fear-panic-egypt-arrests-chinese-uighurstudents170707051922204.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018]. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International raised the case of the Uyghur students in Egypt in press releases. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, stated: “Uyghurs living in Egypt should be free from fear of arbitrary arrest and deportation to a country where they risk persecution and torture.”42Human Rights Watch (2017). Egypt: Don’t Deport Uyghurs to China. [online] Human Rights Watch. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/07/egypt-dont-deport-uyghurs-china [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018] See also: Amnesty International (2017). Egypt: Uighur students at risk of forcibly return to China. [online] Amnesty.org. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde12/6681/2017/en/ [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018]

Yasinjan ©Radio Free Asia

Upon their return to China, Uyghur students from Egypt have been forced to undergo ‘reeducation’ in internment camps or been sentenced to prison terms, including Hebibulla Tohti, a Uyghur scholar of theology whose studies in Egypt were sanctioned by China’s state-run Islamic Association;43Hoshur, S. and Lipes, J. (2017). Xinjiang Authorities Sentence Uyghur Scholar to 10 Years in Prison. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/scholar08092017151559.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018]. Hezritieli Memet a 12-year-old boy whose parents voluntarily returned from China in February 2017; and 17 Uyghurs from Yopurgha county.44Hoshur, S., Seytoff, A. and Lipes, J. (2017). China Detains 12-Year-Old Uyghur Boy on Return to Xinjiang From Egypt. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at:
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/boy-07242017153914.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018].
Two Uyghur students, Abdusalam Mamat and Yasinjan, who voluntarily returned from their studies in Egypt to Korla, reportedly died in 2017.45Hoshur, S., Seytoff, A. and Lipes, J. (2017). Two Uyghur Students Die in China’s Custody Following Voluntary Return From Egypt. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/students12212017141002.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018].

Following a closed-door trial, Buzainap Adbureshit was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. The charges made against her and her current location remain unknown. Buzainap was among the Uyghur students in Egypt.46Amnesty International (2017). Urgent Action: Uighur woman incommunicado after secret trial in China. [online] Amnesty International. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa17/7168/2017/en/ [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018]. However, she was arrested after her return to East Turkestan from the United States, where she was visiting her father-in law.

Buzainap Adbureshit

Six students returned from Turkey to Bortala between January and April 2017 were convicted of undisclosed charges and handed sentences of between five and twelve years. The six individuals are Kawser, Mewlan, Jawlan, Mudeser, Suriya, and Gulshan.

Student Gulgine Tashmemet returned to Ghulja from Malaysia after completing her studies out of concern for her family with whom she had lost contact. Since her return, her current whereabouts are unknown and she is believed to be in an internment camp.47Hoja, G. and Lipes, J. (2018). Uyghur Student Missing, Believed Detained After Return From Malaysia University. [online] Radio Free Asia. Available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/student05292018134031.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2018]. Gulgine’s case has been highlighted by Scholars at Risk, which expressed alarm “over the arbitrary detention and possible disappearance of a student as part of sweeping measures by state authorities to restrict the right to academic freedom and freedom of religion and association — rights that are expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”48Scholars at Risk (2018). Gulgine Tashmemet. [online] Scholars at Risk. Available at:
https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/report/2018-05-29-university-of-technology-malaysia/ [Accessed 3 Oct.
2018].

Gulgine Tashmemet @Radio Free Asia

III. Uyghur Intellectuals Imprisoned Prior to 2017: Profiles

Ilham Tohti

Ilham Tohti, a noted Uyghur academic, was a popular economics professor at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing. He also ran the Uighurbiz website, a forum in Mandarin Chinese to discuss economic, social and cultural issues facing the Uyghur people in China. On September 23, 2014, he was handed a life sentence after a trial that fell far below international standards.49Uyghur American Association (2014). Uyghur American Association condemns harsh sentencing of Ilham Tohti |. [online] Uyghur Human Rights Project. Available at: http://uhrp.org/press-release/uyghuramerican-association-condemns-harsh-sentencing-ilham-tohti.html [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018]. The White House, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and the European Union condemned the sentencing.50Uyghur Human Rights Project (2014). Uyghur Political Prisoners: Ilham Tohti. [online] Uyghur Human Rights Project. Available at: https://uhrp.org/political-prisoners-2014/ilham-tohti [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018]. At the sixty-ninth session of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention held between April 22 and May 1, 2014, a panel of five human rights experts ruled that Ilham Tohti’s deprivation of liberty since January 15, 2014 was an arbitrary detention, in violation of international human rights law.51Uyghur Human Rights Project (2014). UN Working Group says China’s deprivation of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti’s liberty arbitrary. [online] Uyghur Human Rights Project. Available at: http://uhrp.org/pressrelease/un-working-group-says-chinas-deprivation-uyghur-scholar-ilham-tohtis-liberty-arbitrary [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

Ilham Tohti ©Radio Free Asia

Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Nijat, Mutellip Imin, Abduqeyyum, Atikem Rozi, Akbar Imin, and Luo Yuwei

Seven of Ilham Tohti’s students were given prison sentences of up to eight years in December 2014.52Martina, M. (2014). China jails seven students of Uighur scholar for separatism. [online] Reuters.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/12/09/uk-china-rights-xinjiangidUKKBN0JN0B020141209 [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].
Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Nijat, Mutellip Imin, Abduqeyyum Ablimit, Atikem Rozi, Akbar Imin and Luo Yuwei (an ethnic Yi) worked as volunteers on Professor Tohti’s website, Uighurbiz.

Mutellip Imin

Atikem was detained on January 17, 2014; she was then 22 years old. Rozi had been previously detained in February 2013 after writing online about difficulties with an application for a passport. Her application was denied three times between 2010 and 2012, allegedly on political grounds, despite absence of any political record.53Uyghur Human Rights Project (2013). Briefing: Refusals of passports to Uyghurs and confiscations of passports held by Uyghurs indicator of second-class status in China. [online] Uyghur Human Rights Project. Available at: http://uhrp.org/press-release/briefing-refusals-passports-uyghurs-and-confiscationspassports-held-uyghurs-indicator [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

Mutellip was detained in Lop County, Hotan Prefecture on January 15, 2014; he was then 25 years old. He was previously detained in 2013 and was connected to his international studies. Mutellip was detained as he was traveling to Turkey to complete the second year of his master’s degree at Istanbul University. After his detention, he described the experience in a widely circulated blog post.54Imin, M. (2013). I Was a Victim of Enforced Disappearance for 79 Days. [online] Word Press. Available at: https://mutellipimin.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/i-was-a-victim-of-enforced-disappearance-for-79-days/
[Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].
Held in three hotels for 79 consecutive days, he was questioned about his work for Uighurbiz, and required to hand over passwords to his phone, computer and social media accounts.

Gulmire Imin

One of the many Uyghurs punished by Chinese authorities for voicing opinions online after the July 5 unrest is Gulmire Imin, a 32-year-old woman who was invited to become an administrator for the website Salkin after having published a number of poems on various Uyghur websites. Imin was arrested on July 14, 2009, but her family did not receive any official documents regarding her detention. On April 1, 2010, she was sentenced to life in prison. Imin was sentenced on the same day as her closed trial.55Uyghur Human Rights Project (2014). Uyghur Political Prisoners: Gulmire Imin. [online] Uyghur
Human Rights Project. Available at: https://uhrp.org/political-prisoners-2014/gulmire-imin [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

Gulmire Imin ©USCIRF

In March 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention rendered the opinion that Gulmire Imin’s detention is arbitrary.56United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (2012). Communication addressed to the Government on 21 March 2012 Concerning Gulmira Imin. [online] United Nations. Available at: https://www.unwgaddatabase.org/un/Document.aspx?id=2869&terms=(+Xinjiang+) [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018]. Regarding Imin’s case, the Working Group found China in contravention of articles 8, 9, 10 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In December 2012, Human Rights Watch awarded Gulmire Imin the Hellman/Hammett prize for her efforts to promote freedom of expression.57Human Rights Watch (2012). China: 12 Win Prestigious Free Speech Prize. [online]. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/20/china-12-win-prestigious-free-speech-prize [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

Other Cases of Concern

  • Gheyret Niyaz, journalist, sentenced in July 2010 to 15 years imprisonment for “Endangering State Security”

IV. Recommendations

China

  1. Close all internment camps and without condition immediately release all Uyghur academics and students interned or imprisoned in the recent crackdown.
  2. Restore all Uyghur academics removed from their posts, interned or imprisoned to their university positions.
  3. Adopt the standards detailed in the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel taking note of the provisions protecting academic freedom in Section VI: Rights and freedoms of higher-education teaching personnel.
  4. Abide by Article 52 of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law and Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, which guarantees freedom of speech.
  5. Ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and implement the provisions protecting freedom of speech contained in Article 19.
  6. Meet the standards outlined in Article 2.5 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and end the practice of punishing Uyghurs for having overseas connections.

Concerned Governments and the International Community

  1. Utilize China’s November 2018 Universal Periodic Review to question the Chinese government about the arbitrary internment and imprisonment of Uyghur academics and students. Member states should ask for the immediate release of Uyghur internees and for respect for academic freedom in Chinese universities.
  2. Send observers, particularly the Special Rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and on minority issues to East Turkestan, with unfettered access to internment camps and Uyghur academic communities to impartially conduct an assessment of China’s compliance to its international obligations.
  3. Conduct due diligence regarding government-funded academic exchanges, conferences, and international visits by higher-education officials from China, to ensure that these programs are not complicit in endorsing policies and actions that constitute grave violations of the human rights of Uyghurs.
  4. Issue diplomatic démarches to the Chinese government condemning the secret, arbitrary detention of Uyghur scholars and students who have studied in the issuing government’s country, and seeking information about their whereabouts and wellbeing.
  5. Issue public travel warnings for institutions and individuals planning visits to China for educational exchanges, or other education-related business, regarding the grave risk of arbitrary detention incurred by any Uyghur or member of other persecuted religious and ethnic groups, whether living in Xinjiang or in any place in China, who have contact with foreigners in any form.
  6. Issue policy statements alerting suppliers of goods and services to educational institutions and all other state entities in Xinjiang, regarding existing national policies prohibiting assistance to institutions complicit in grave human rights violations.
  7. Issue policy guidance to national immigration and asylum authorities regarding the serious risk of detention, torture, and death in custody incurred by Uyghur students and scholars involuntarily returned to China.
  8. Provide government funding and encourage private funding of the educational expenses of Uyghur international students who cannot continue self-funding their studies due to the unjust detention of their relatives in China.
  9. Provide fellowships for Uyghur scholars who cannot return home due to the grave risk of detention, torture and death in custody.

Academics Based Overseas

  1. Consider joining the Xinjiang Initiative (xinjianginitiative.org) and pledge to raise the issue of Uyghur human rights at public events.
  2. Urge institutions that have hosted Uyghur academics as international guests in the past to seek information about the whereabouts and well-being of these scholars and their families.
  3. Academic publishers should seek information about the whereabouts and well-being of Uyghur scholars who have published articles in their journals.

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