Imprisoned scholars and students in the XUAR, China

Posted April 20, 2019

Starting in 2017, a growing number of students and scholars of various ethnic minority communities in China have disappeared and are believed to be held in so-called “reeducation camps” or other detention facilities. In most cases, authorities have not disclosed their whereabouts, well-being, whether they have access to family or legal counsel, or what charges they face, if any. Read more.

Case Information

In January 2017, students from the XUAR, who were studying abroad, were directed to return to China by state authorities. State authorities reportedly threatened to detain family members based in China if they failed to return, and pressured foreign governments to detain and deport students back to China. Since then, state authorities have detained large numbers of religious and ethnic minorities from the XUAR in so-called “reeducation camps” and other detention facilities. Human rights groups have reported that detainees are subjected to physical and psychological abuse, including beatings, solitary confinement, and sexual harassment; and are forced to recite anthems of the Chinese Communist Party, attend indoctrination classes, eat pork, and drink alcohol, in contravention of their religious beliefs. A large number of detainees have also reportedly been transferred from the camps and forced to work in factories across China, where they experience similar mistreatment.

While an official accounting of detainees is unavailable, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) cited in its August 2018 report estimates ranging from “tens of thousands to upwards of a million.” Available information suggests that detainees were taken into custody based on their religious practices and other non-criminal activity, including, for example, attending religious services, having a long beard, or speaking with overseas family or friends. The German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported accounts from several former detainees that suggest Chinese authorities have prosecuted detainees through closed-door trials, during which they denied detainees access to legal counsel and forced them to retroactively choose a crime for their imprisonment; those who declined were threatened with lifelong detention in the camps.

Among those disappeared and suspected of being in state custody are a growing number of scholars, students, and other public intellectuals. They include:

  • Halmurat Ghopur, the former president of Xinjiang Medical University Hospital and scholar of medicine, was detained in November 2017 on allegations of “acts against the state.” Nearly a year later, in September 2018, it was reported that authorities had issued a two-year suspended death sentence against Ghopur for “exhibiting ‘separatist tendencies’” (see report).
  • Rahile Dawut, a world-renowned ethnographer and scholar of Uyghur studies at XJU disappeared in December 2017. She is suspected of being held in a reeducation camp or prison (see report).

In these and other cases, state authorities have not disclosed detained scholars’ and students’ whereabouts, whether they have been charged with criminal activity, or the evidentiary bases for their detention, if any.

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