Detained and Disappeared: Intellectuals Under Assault in the Uyghur Homeland

May 21, 2019

An updated Uyghur Human Rights Project report by Henryk Szadziewski

Since April 2017, the Chinese government has interned, imprisoned, or forcibly disappeared at least 435 intellectuals as part of its intensified assault on Uyghurs and erasure of their culture. This group is likely a small fraction of all Uyghur intellectuals suffering serious human rights violations.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has previously released three reports documenting the persecution of Uyghur intellectuals. In October 2018, UHRP identified 231 impacted intellectuals. A January 2019 update added 107 known cases, for a total of 338 intellectuals affected by these serious mass atrocities. In March 2019 a second update brought the total to 386.

According to the Xinjiang Victims Database, 49 individuals have died in custody or shortly after their release, including intellectuals, among them religious scholars Muhammad Salih Hajim and Abdulehed Mehsum; scholars Abdusattar Qarahajim and Erkinjan Abdukerim; and students Abdusalam Mamat, Yasinjan and Mutellip Nurmehmet.

Of the Uyghur and other Turkic intellectuals detained, imprisoned, or disappeared, students comprise the largest number at 125 individuals, followed by 77 university instructors and 58 journalists, editors and publishers (see Table 1). Of those taken away 319 are male, 80 female, and 36 of unknown gender (some reports of interned or imprisoned intellectuals have been collective and the gender not specified.) (see Table 2).”

Table 1: Targeted intellectuals by profession

(Adapted from research by Abduweli Ayup and Gene Bunin)

University instructors77
Journalists, editors & publishers58
Poets, writers & scholars47
High school & middle school teachers30
Actors, directors, hosts & singers29
Medical researchers and doctors22
Computer engineers15
Photographers & painters4

Table 2: Targeted intellectuals by gender

(Adapted from research by Abduweli Ayup and Gene Bunin)

Well-known Uyghur poet Chimengul Awut was reported interned in a camp in a November 2018 report. Chimengul was celebrated at the regional Women’s Literature Conference in 2004 and her poem The Road of no Return won the Tulpar Literature Award in November 2008. Before her arrest, Chimengul wrote this poem on her WeChat page to her son:

My dear son
Please don’t cry
The whole world will cry for you!

Chimengul Awut ©Tengritagh Akademiyesi

Xinjiang University faculty has been a focus for the Chinese authorities, given their prominence in Uyghur-produced scholarship conducted in the region. Twenty-thee intellectuals have been interned from the institution, including internationally recognized professors such as Dr. Abdukerim Rahman. Sixteen staff members from Xinjiang Normal University, including Professor Abduqadir Jalalidin, 13 from Kashgar University, including Professor Qurban Osman, and six from Xinjiang Medical University, including Halmurat Ghopur, are also known to have been interned in camps, imprisoned, or forcibly disappeared.

The persecution of teachers, scholars and artists constitutes an attempt to erase Uyghur identity in what historian James Millward has termed a “cultural cleansing.”

It is time to end business as usual. The Chinese government’s systematic persecution of Uyghur producers of knowledge and culture must lead to action by academic, professional, and artistic institutions.

UHRP calls on universities worldwide to immediately suspend cooperation with China’s Ministry of Education, including the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), in light of this documented ethno-religiously based persecution of professors, teachers and researchers.

For the full list of interned, disappeared, and imprisoned Uyghur intellectuals, please visit:

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