The targeting of intellectuals by China is not new but is concerning to the academic world.
Several prominent Uyghur scholars have disappeared from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the recent months. Although authorities are not confirming or denying, scholars and activists are believed to be held on political re-education camps within the country. The latest case, that of Rahile Dawut, a professor of Uyghur studies at Xinjiang University wen missing in December of 2017 after she informed family members that she planned to travel to Beijing.
Her family announced her disappearance in August, and is suspected to be among a growing number of prominent Uyghur scholars which the government accuses of harboring string religious views and politically incorrect ideas that has gone missing in 2017. Members of the Uyghur ethnic group have regularly reported discrimination, repression of religion and suppression of culture under Chinese governance.
The New-York based academic freedom watchdog Scholars at Risk reported that they are gravely concerned for Dawut, and suggested that authorities have not disclosed any details about her whereabouts or well-being, In addition, they have not allowed her access to legal counsel of brought up any charges against her.
The group called on China to respect Dawut’s rights under international law, which include
“ensure her access to family and legal counsel, and ensure and that her case is addressed in a manner consistent with internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, and detention, in accordance with China’s obligations…”
The organization notes that Dawut is not the first scholar targeted by the Chinese government for practicing religion and teaching it in secondary schools. Although initially denied by Beijing, the Uyghur re-education camps exist under the guise of anti-terrorism and offer “vocational training” for those involved. Scholars at Risk has called on Chinese authorities to immediately release all Uyghurs jailed for their right to practice academic freedom. This group includes journalists, professors, religious authorities, teachers and students.
China’s History with Minorities
China has a questionable history in respects to their treatments of minorities. Prominent Uyghur leaders in the diaspora are convinced that China’s most recent actions are precursors to genocide, and many campaign groups are urging foreign governments to halt business with China until action is taken on behalf of the repressed group. In addition to domestic issues, Uyghurs living outside of mainland China are at risk of “extra-territorial reach,” including those residing in nearby countries like Australia. It is believed that approximately one million Uyghurs are being held in detention camps in Xinxiang as a part of a crackdown on the population.