By Tsering Choephel
DHARAMSALA, 26 Sept: The human rights group, Dui Hua Foundation, confirmed on Thursday that the renowned Uighur scholar Rahile Dawut has been sentenced to life imprisonment in a secret trial by Chinese authorities, as stated in the foundation’s press release on 21 September.
Rahile Dawut was arrested and detained in December 2017 and, a year later, subjected to a secret trial where she was charged with “splittism” – meaning a threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) security. The exact details of her sentence remained unknown until recently and were confirmed by the Dui Hua Foundation through Chinese government sources.
The Foundation also verified that Dawut had appealed her sentence, but her appeal was rejected by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region High People’s Court. In addition to her life sentence, she has been deprived of political rights for life.
Dawut had been a long-time member of the CCP and had received awards and grants from China’s Ministry of Culture.
Author of numerous books and papers on Uighur folklore, she is a highly regarded ethnographer. Her academic contributions extended beyond China, as she travelled and lectured at prestigious universities such as Harvard, Cornell, and Cambridge. In 2007, she founded the Ethnic Minorities Research Center at Xinjiang University and conducted extensive fieldwork throughout East Turkestan, known as Xinjiang by the CCP.
John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation, expressed deep concern, stating, “The sentencing of Professor Rahile Dawut to life in prison is a cruel tragedy, a great loss for the Uighur people, and for all who treasure academic freedom.” He called for her immediate release and safe return to her family.
According to reports from Human Rights Watch on the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the CCP has forcibly disappeared more than 500 Uighur intellectuals as of December 2021. The targeted persecution of intellectuals and artists is a common practice in authoritarian regimes throughout history. In present-day China, with advanced surveillance technology and policies that enforce loyalty to the CCP, the situation becomes even more dire for those who hold different views or are deemed a ‘threat’ to the CCP.
Mukaddas Mijit, a Uighur ethnomusicologist based in Brussels, recognised Dawut as a critical bridge between global academia and Uighur culture. He emphasised her role as a guardian of Uighur identity, something the Chinese government aims to erase. “They want to erase everything, and they want Uyghurs to forget how beautiful and colourful a culture they had,” Mijit lamented.
Human Rights Watch condemned “Beijing’s unrelenting cultural persecution of Uyghurs, hostility to free expression, and disdain for fair trial rights – all serious violations of international law.” The organisation called for renewed international calls for independent investigations into crimes against humanity in East Turkestan and appealed to academic institutions with ties to Dawut to join in the call for her immediate release.