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The Disappearance of Uyghur Intellectuals and Cultural Elites

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Specific details are emerging about an alarming number of intellectuals, cultural elites, and university professors from China's Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim minority populations who have been imprisoned or forcibly disappeared since April 2016 as part of a major government crackdown in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. According to a report titled "The Disappearance of Uyghur Intellectual and Cultural Elites: A New Form of Eliticide" published on December 8, 2021, by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (URHP), the Chinese government has interned, imprisoned, or forcibly disappeared at least 312 scholars, professors, poets, musicians, doctors, and writers who the group believes are currently being held in some form of extralegal captivity.

Key Findings

  • URHP suspects at least 312 Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim intellectual and cultural elites are currently being held in some form of detention.

  • The Chinese government persecution of Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim intellectuals and cultural elites constitutes a significant component of China's genocidal campaign in East Turkistan.

  • As a component of genocide, the assault on intellectuals and cultural elites may constitute a new form of eliticide meant to exterminate Uyghur (and other) cultural identities.

It is estimated that more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities are being incarcerated in internment camps in China. The UHRP evaluated data collected by Uyghur diaspora members to document the Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz intellectuals who are thought to be incarcerated as of late 2021. The report highlights two persecuted Uyghur scholars who were disappeared in 2017.

Abdubesir Shukuri, former Professor and Dean of the Department of Literature at Xinjiang Normal University | Photo Credit: Radio Free Asia

Abdubesir Shukuri, a Professor and Dean of the Department of Literature at Xinjiang Normal University and an expert on Uyghur language, folklore, and cultural heritage, has been missing since he was held in custody in the region in 2017.

Exmet Momin Tarimi, prolific scholar and author who has over 70 publications | Photo Credit: UNRP

Exmet Momin Tarimi, a Uyghur scholar, calligrapher, and former journalist, disappeared on December 2017. He was supposed to complete his Ph.D. thesis on a topic that his advisor at Nanjing University initially refused, saying that the research was extremely sensitive. Tarimi's dissertation examined self-governing political rule in the region.

Rahile Dawut, a leading expert on Uyghur folklore and traditions at Xinjiang University whose work had previously been sponsored by the Chinese State, left Urumchi for Beijing in December 2017 and has not been heard from since.

Halmurat Ghopur former president of XJ Medical University and head XJ Food and Drug Administration | Photo Credit: Xinjiang Victims Database

Halmurat Ghopur, the 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. Former president of Xinjiang University, Tashpolat Tiyip, has reportedly received a heavy sentence on "separatism" charges.

Tashpolat Tiyip: The Uighur leading geographer who vanished in China | Photo Credit: BBC News

The names of Kashgar University's president, Erkin Omer; the vice president, Muhter Abdughopur; and professors Qurban Osman and Gulnar Obul have been deleted from the institution's website, and their whereabouts are unknown.

UHRP's report states that even though the Chinese communist regime has a long history of persecuting the Uyghur elites, since 2017, it has significantly ramped up the pressure, particularly on those who speak out against rights abuses committed against the Uyghur people.

The current assault on Uyghur intellectual and cultural elites from 2017 onward represents a significant escalation of persecution, as even Uyghurs loyal to the state and party are now subject to absurd allegations such as being 'two-faced,' i.e., politically hypocritical.

In an interview with Newsweek, Salih Hudayar, prime minister of the East Turkistan Government in exile, stated that Uyghur cultural, intellectual, and business elites are being vanished as a part of "China's ongoing genocide and colonization in East Turkistan." "By doing so, the Chinese government seeks to deprive Uyghurs of cultural, economic and intellectual leaders that could empower the Uyghur people to preserve their identity and even guide them towards achieving external self-determination—independence" Hudayar added.

The Chinese government has long been defending its harsh suppression of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities as a means to "educate and transform" those whom the government considers a risk to the ruling party by labeling them as extremists, separatists, and terrorists. Before Beijing publicly disclosed the existence of its re-education camps in October 2018, it had pushed the narrative that the centers were merely intended to further education in "vocational skills," such as sewing and baking.

The report was published right after a verdict by the Uyghur Tribunal that the Chinese Communist Party's conduct in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. The verdict has swayed a growing number of countries to vow to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing including the U.S., Canada, Australia, the UK, and Lithuania.

The report further details the role of Chinese President Xi Jinping in directing the Communist Party's forcible assimilation against religious minorities in the country's northwestern region of Xinjiang, citing leaked Chinese government documents. Copies of the documents labeled top secret, recap internal speeches delivered by President Xi and other senior party leaders regarding situations in Xinjiang between 2014 and 2017, the period when the assimilation campaign was conceived and launched. In the documents, Xi alerts the party of the hazards of religious influence and unemployment among minorities, highlighting the importance of "population proportion," or the balance between minorities and Han Chinese, to maintain control in the region.

Even on U.S. Campuses, China Cracks Down on Students Who Speak Out

In another turn of events, Chinese students and scholars in the United States who criticize the regime in Beijing have faced retaliation from fellow students and Chinese officials who harass their families in China, according to a report published by ProPublica; a US based nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.

The report details how the Chinese ruling party reaches across borders to control its citizens wherever they are and illustrates how the parents of the many students who do not conform to the “views and ideology of the Chinese Communist Party” have been threatened and harassed in China.”

Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) deplores the Chinese government's pervasive and ongoing crackdown on the Uyghur people. We urge the Chinese authorities to stop harassing the Uyghur people immediately. We call on the Chinese government to respect, guarantee, and implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties in accordance with China's obligations under international law.

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 the Uyghur people by the Chinese authorities.

Please send appeals to the following:

Xi Jinping

President of the People's Republic of China

Zhong Naihai

Beijing 100032

People's Republic of China

Zhou Qiang

Chief Justice,

Supreme People's Court No. 27

Dong Jiao Min Xiang

Beijing 100745

People's Republic of China

Fax: +86 10 6529 2345 (c/o Ministry of Communication)

1 Comment

Ӧmir Bekali
Ӧmir Bekali
Dec 15, 2021

What an informative and fantastic piece. I am an Uighur who faced China’s concentration camps. During a short trip to visit to my family I was arrested and spent over eight month in an internment camp suffering an unending physical and psychological torment. Thank you for your work.

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