By Tursunjan Uyghur
Sep 21, 2023
In a deeply concerning development, it has been revealed that Professor Rahile Dawut, a highly respected Uyghur anthropologist, was sentenced to life in prison by Chinese authorities.
According to a source in the Chinese government, Professor Rahile Dawut (راھىلە داۋۇت, 热依拉 · 达吾提), an acclaimed Uyghur intellectual and expert on Uyghur folklore and traditions, is serving a life sentence for endangering state security. The Dui Hua Foundation (Dui Hua) reported this on Thursday.
Professor Rahile Dawut disappeared in December 2017, leaving her colleagues and the international community deeply concerned about her well-being. It wasn’t until July 2021 that former co-workers at Xinjiang University confirmed that she had been imprisoned and sentenced. However, no further details were made available about her situation.
“Dawut was tried in December 2018, one year after her detention, for the crime of “splittism”—a crime of endangering state security—by an intermediate people’s court in the occupied Uyghur homeland. She was convicted and appealed the sentence. The most recent information confirmed that her appeal was subsequently rejected by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region High People’s Court.”
At the moment of her arrest in December 2017, Professor Rahile Dawut was employed as a faculty member at Xinjiang University College of Humanities. In 2007, she established the Ethnic Minorities Research Center at the same institution, and over the years, she conducted extensive fieldwork across the Uyghur homeland, solidifying her standing as a pioneering ethnographer. With a tenure of 57 years, Professor Rahile Dawut has held a longstanding membership in the Chinese Communist Party and has been honored with awards and research grants from China’s Ministry of Culture.
Professor Rahile Dawut has published numerous books and papers on Uyghur folklore and has lectured widely, including at Harvard University, Cornell University, and the University of British Columbia, among others. She was a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, Washington University, and Indiana University.
“Professor Rahila Dawut was among the earliest supporters of my “Uyghur Doppa Cultural Festival-Uyghur Day” Initiative back in 2008, when we first crossed paths. I sought her endorsement for the project. Subsequently, in 2010–2011, she became my professor during my graduate program in Uyghur literature at Xinjiang University. When I initiated the “Uyghur Female Postgraduate Scholarship of Ozturk,” she emerged as a prominent advocate within the university, championing the cause of empowering Uyghur women in higher education,” stated Tahir Imin Uyghurian, the founder of Uyghur Times. “I owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) expressed its shock and dismay upon learning of this sentence.
UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat reacted to the news, stating, “This is devastating news. A life sentence for a person who serves her people with integrity and compassion is a true outrage.” The UHRP has been tirelessly advocating for the rights of the Uyghur community and intellectuals like Professor Rahile Dawut.
Professor Dawut’s sentencing sheds light on the dire situation faced by Uyghur intellectuals in China. Henryk Szadziewski, UHRP Director of Research, emphasized the gravity of the situation, saying, “Confirmation of Rahile’s life sentence should give us pause to grasp the ruin visited on family lives of China’s genocide. 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.”
The Chinese government has also imprisoned numerous other professionals, including artists, writers, teachers, and doctors. Dr. Gulshan Abbas, a retired physician, forcibly disappeared in September 2018 and was confirmed two years later to have 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.
The international community continues to monitor the situation of Uyghur intellectuals closely and calls for justice and human rights to be upheld in the face of these grave violations.