Uyghur academic Rahile Dawut in Urumqi in a photo from 2006. LISA ROSS / AP
For months, China has been trying to make people believe that the situation in Xinjiang has returned to normal by increasing the number of press trips or “experts” there and promoting mass tourism. The situation there is so “normal” that the courts have just convicted Rahile Dawut, a 57-year-old Uyghur academic whose only “crime” is being an expert on Uyghur folklore and traditions and having created the research in 2007 on ethnic minorities within Xinjiang University.
Ms. Dawut was arrested in 2017 and sentenced to life imprisonment for “separatism” in the first instance after a trial that took place behind closed doors in December 2018.
It was the American Dui Hua Foundation, which specializes in US-China human rights dialogue, that expressed this belief, which has since been confirmed in Beijing. “This sentencing is a cruel tragedy, a great loss for the Uyghur people and for all who value academic freedom,” commented John Kamm, director of Dui Hua. “Professor Dawut’s conviction is in no way evidence of wrongdoing, but rather demonstrates Beijing’s relentless cultural persecution of Uyghurs, its hostility to free expression and its disregard for fair justice,” said Sophie Richardson, head of the Department of Human Rights Human Rights in China Watch Association.
An “elitist murderer”
Rahile Dawut, author of a dissertation at Beijing Normal University in 1998, was “a reference for Uyghur studies in Chinese academia. “Her research projects were funded by the state and she contributed to the influence of Chinese research in the world,” explained the Researcher Vanessa Frangville, Chair of Chinese Studies at the Free University of Brussels, told Libération. Ms. Dawut had worked with several Western universities such as Cambridge, Harvard, Tokyo as well as the National Center for Scientific Research.
His conviction was made public on September 22, on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the life sentence of another prominent figure in the Uyghur intelligentsia, economist Ilham Tohti. According to a calculation by the Human Rights Project published in December 2021, at least 312 Uyghur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz intellectuals were victims of what the authors called “eliticide” aimed at “eradicating the cultural identity of Uyghurs” as well as other Muslim ethnic groups in of the region.
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