In December 2017, Chinese authorities reportedly detained prominent Islamic scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim, along with his daughter and other family members, without charge. On January 29, 2018, it was reported that Mr. Hajim died while in custody at an undisclosed facility.
Hajim was a renowned religious scholar, known as the first to translate the Quran into the Uyghur language, in 1986. Authorities reportedly detained Hajim, along with members of his family, in December 2017, at an undisclosed location. Uyghur rights groups reported that Mr. Hajim died in custody some forty days after being detained. The circumstances of his death are unknown. Police officials have confirmed his death, but declined to comment on the circumstances or to release his body to family.
The detention of Hajim and his family occurred against the backdrop of a growing government crackdown on China’s Uyghur ethnic minority community. Uyghur rights groups and other sources report that, since April 2017, Chinese authorities have detained hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in so-called re-education camps and other facilities, where they are reportedly subjected to physical and psychological torture. Hajim was reportedly among those who were tortured while in detention. Central government officials have not confirmed the existence of the camps; although local police have confirmed the detention of large numbers of Uyghurs and their transfer to such camps.
As of this report, information regarding the status of the family members who were detained with Hajim has not been disclosed.
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned by the death of a scholar while detained incommunicado. SAR offers its condolences to the victim’s family, colleagues, and friends, and urges state authorities to clarify the circumstances of the scholar’s death, and otherwise ensure a prompt, independent, and transparent investigation, and release his body to family. SAR is also concerned of the arbitrary detention of a scholar and his family as part of sweeping measures by state authorities to restrict the right to academic freedom, freedom of religion, and freedom of association — rights that are expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with these rights, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly.