UHRP Appalled by News of Life Sentence for Professor Rahile Dawut

Photo by Lisa Ross

Photo by Lisa Ross

For immediate release
September 21, 2023, 3:00 p.m. EDT
Contact: Omer Kanat, +1 (202) 790-1795, Peter Irwin, +1 (646) 906-7722

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is appalled to learn that Professor Rahile Dawut (راھىلە داۋۇت, 热依拉 · 达吾提), a highly respected Uyghur anthropologist, was handed a life sentence by the Chinese authorities in 2018.

“This is devastating news,” said UHRP Executive Director, Omer Kanat. “A life sentence for a person who serves her people with integrity and compassion is a true outrage.”

“Confirmation of Rahile’s life sentence should give us pause to grasp the ruin visited on family lives of China’s genocide,” said UHRP Director of Research, Henryk Szadziewski. “The Chinese state has taken a wrecking ball to any expressions of Uyghurness outside of its purview. As a gifted academic documenting Uyghur knowledge, targeting Rahile is no coincidence.”

Dr. Rahile disappeared in December 2017, and former co-workers at Xinjiang University confirmed in July 2021 that Professor Rahile was imprisoned and sentenced, but no other details were made available. The Duihua Foundation has now made public the results of a multi-year effort to press the government for information about her wellbeing and status.

Dr. Rahile is a prominent Uyghur scholar and leading expert on Uyghur folklore and traditions. She founded and directed Xinjiang University’s Minorities Folklore Research Center, where she taught up until 2017, where her work had been sponsored and supported by the Chinese government.

UHRP urges universities to lodge renewed formal protests over the persecution of Uyghur intellectuals, and to reconsider their terms of engagement with the PRC Ministry of Education.

UHRP calls on governments around the world to impose targeted human rights sanctions on the perpetrators of judicial crimes, such as life sentences for peaceful academics and professionals. 

To date, the US has imposed only 10 Magnitsky human rights sanctions on officials responsible for atrocity crimes against the Uyghur people. The EU, UK, and Canada have imposed far fewer

The Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur intellectual and cultural elites constitutes a significant component of China’s genocidal campaign in East Turkistan, which UHRP has documented since 2018. In a December 2021 briefing, The Disappearance of Uyghur Intellectual and Cultural Elites: A New Form of Eliticide, UHRP documented 312 Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim intellectual and cultural elites held in some form of detention in East Turkistan.

Many prominent Uyghur intellectual figures have been detained and handed long prison terms. Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur professor and academic who taught at Minzu University in Beijing, was sentenced to life in prison in September 2014 for advocating basic economic, cultural, religious and political rights for Uyghurs.

The Chinese government has also imprisoned many other professionals including artists, writers, teachers, and doctors. Dr. Gulshan Abbas, a retired physician, was forcibly disappeared in September of 2018, only to be confirmed two years later as having been given a 20-year term of imprisonment. Her daughters, both American citizens, have yet to speak with her or see any concrete proof of life.

Note on names: Where many English speakers might refer to Dr. Rahile Dawut as “Dr. Dawut,” Uyghurs instead say “Dr. Rahile,” because “Dawut” is Dr. Rahile’s father’s name, not an intergenerational family name. See UHRP’s 2022 Guide to rendering Uyghur names.

Read more:

The Disappearance of Uyghur Intellectual and Cultural Elites: A New Form of Eliticide, UHRP Report, 2021 

Detained and Disappeared: Intellectuals Under Assault in the Uyghur Homeland (updated report), May 21, 2019

Detained and Disappeared: Intellectuals Under Assault in the Uyghur Home Land, March 25, 2019

Disappeared Forever? The persecution of Uyghur intellectuals, by Henryk Szadziewski, LA Review of Books China Channel, Feb 19, 2019

The Persecution of the Intellectuals in the Uyghur Region Continues, January 28, 2019

The Persecution of the Intellectuals in the Uyghur Region: Disappeared Forever? October 22, 2018