The U.S. government recently condemned China for imposing a life sentence on Uyghur scholar, Rahile Dawut, in 2018.
Dawut is the former director of Xinjiang University’s Minorities Folklore Research Center, who wrote many articles about sacred Islamic sites in Central Asia. The New York Times reported that she also taught others to celebrate many Uyghur traditions, with her research even being financially supported by Chinese government ministries.
“Above all, we’re preserving and documenting this folk cultural heritage not so that it can lie in archives or serve as museum exhibits, but so it can be returned to the people,” Dawut said in an interview with a Chinese art newspaper in 2011.
However, with President Xi Jinping in power, Uyghur Muslims began to be persecuted by the communist government. During this time, Dawut managed to avoid political disputes regarding Xinjiang’s future, and continued her work teaching at the Xinjiang University College of Humanities.
However, in 2017, she mysteriously disappeared.
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According to a relative of hers — who spoke anonymously — she was told by Dawut in December 2017 that she was in a rush, hoping to travel to Beijing from Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region. Since then, no contact has been made with her, raising fears that she had been captured by authorities during a clampdown on Uyghur Muslims.
Eventually, after years of searching, the U.S.-based Dui Hua Foundation human rights group learned that Dawut was tried and convicted in December 2018, charged with “splittism” by an intermediate people’s court in Xinjiang. Her appeal had been rejected, the group said.
“The most recent information confirmed that her appeal was subsequently rejected by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region High People’s Court,” the Dui Hua Foundation reported.
WIth 1.8 million Uyghurs reportedly corralled into China’s detention camps, the communist government alleges that the camps are being used as centers for “vocational training” or “re-education” against supposed terrorist ideology in Xinjiang.
In a statement Dawut’s daughter, Akeda Pulati, requested the communist government free her mother.
“I worry about my mother every single day. The thought of my innocent mother having to spend her life in prison brings unbearable pain. China, show your mercy and release my innocent mother,” she said.
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Condemnation from Washington
In a statement on Sept. 29, the U.S. Department of State called out the CCP for the life sentence imposed behind the scenes on Dawut. It added that she and other Uyghur intellectuals were treated unjustly for defending their work and their culture.
“Professor Dawut’s life sentence is part of an apparent broader effort by the PRC to eradicate Uyghur identity and culture and undermine academic freedom, including through the use of detentions and disappearances,” the statement said.
The statement also called for an end to the “genocide and crimes against humanity” against minority groups in China, and to bring about respect of “human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
“We continue to call on the PRC government to immediately release Professor Dawut and all individuals who are unjustly detained.”
Other western governments have also lambasted China for harassing intellectuals and other cultural figures to eradicate the Uyghur identity, to which Beijing denies any involvement.