The Persecution of the Intellectuals in the Uyghur Region Continues

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

Specific details are emerging about an alarming number of university professors within China’s Uyghur minority who have been imprisoned or have forcibly disappeared since April 2017 as part of a major government crackdown on Uyghurs.

A photo posted to the WeChat account of the Xinjiang Judicial Administration shows Uyghur detainees listening to a 'de-radicalization' speech at a re-education camp in Hotan prefecture's Lop county, April 2017.

According to a new report released this week by Uyghur Human Rights Project (URHP), the Chinese government has interned, imprisoned, or forcibly disappeared at least 338 intellectuals, among them “an alarming 61 university professors” and some 96 students, as part of its intensified assault on Uyghurs and the extermination of their culture in East Turkestan.

Five deaths in custody have been confirmed, but the true number of intellectuals who have died in the camps or immediately after release is unknown, given the veil of secrecy and fear. Dozens of intellectuals are also serving harsh sentences handed down prior to April 2017. 

From Xinjiang University alone, 21 people have been interned in reeducation camps that the Chinese government describes as "vocational training" exercises. The report notes that faculty from Xinjiang University “have been a focus for the Chinese authorities given their prominence in Uyghur-produced scholarship conducted in the region.”

The report mentions that almost 50 students from Egypt’s Al-Azhar University were forced to return home in 2018, and around a dozen Uyghur and Kyrgyz minorities who had been studying at Kyrgyz National University in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, were "forcibly expelled" by the university after they failed to return from China under threat of consequences to their families.

In a previous report released in October, UHRP gave details of some of those who had disappeared, including Rahile Dawut, a leading expert on Uyghur folklore and traditions at Xinjiang University whose work had previously been sponsored by the Chinese State. She left Urumchi for Beijing in December 2017 and has not been heard from since.

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.