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Missing Uyghur Scholar Serving Life Sentence in Xinjiang


Photo credit: Human Rights Watch


On September 21, 2023, Rahile Dawut, a renowned scholar of Uyghur folklore, confirmed to be serving a life sentence in Xinjiang province in the northwestern region of China. Dawut disappeared in December 2017 and was confirmed to be in the custody of Chinese authorities in 2019. Her life sentence was reported after her appeal was denied by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region High People’s Court.


At the time of her detention, Dawut was an Anthropology professor at Xinjiang University College of Humanities. She has published numerous books and journal articles on Uyghur folklore, and had previously served as a visiting scholar at Washington University, Indiana University, and the University of Pennsylvania. As an advocate and leading expert on Uyghur cultural heritage, Dawut founded the Ethnic Minorities Folklore Research Center at Xinjiang University in 2007.


Dawut is one of the approximately 500 Uyghur scholars, students, and activists to be detained, imprisoned, and disappeared by Chinese authorities as of December 2021. Since April 2017, China has held at least 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in internment camps. The Chinese government officially calls these camps “vocational education and training centers,” and has detained Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities for mundane acts such as attending Islamic funerals and having a mobile app installed on their phone. These systematic attacks on Muslim minorities in the region, including torture, state surveillance, forced labor, sexual violence, cultural and religious persecution, and enforced disappearances constitute crimes against humanity, a Human Rights Watch report concluded.


Endangered Scholars Worldwide condemns the arbitrary arrest and detention of Rahile Dawut and other Uyghur intellectuals. We call on the Chinese government to unconditionally release Rahile Dawut immediately and to respect, guarantee, and implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international human rights law and treaties. ESW further calls upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to promoting and defending human rights to protest and condemn the continued abuse of scholars and researchers by the Chinese authorities.


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