In December 2017, Rahile Dawut, a scholar specializing in Uyghur studies at Xinjiang University, reportedly went missing and is suspected of being held by state authorities at an undisclosed location.
Professor Dawut, a member of the Uyghur ethnic minority community, is internationally recognized for her work on Uyghur studies. She has received awards and grants from China’s Ministry of Culture, and is the founder of a folklore institute. In December 2017, Professor Dawut reportedly told a relative of her plans to travel from Urumqi to Beijing. Since that time, however, her family and friends have lost contact with her. Professor Dawut’s family and friends announced her disappearance in August 2018.
While state authorities have not publicly disclosed Professor Dawut’s whereabouts, her family, along with human rights groups, suspect that she is among a growing number of Uyghurs who have been reportedly taken into custody by authorities and are being held at so-called “re-education camps,” in prisons, or at other detention facilities.
Uyghur rights groups and other sources report that, since April 2017, Chinese authorities have detained hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in re-education camps, where they are subject to physical and psychological torture. Central government officials have not confirmed the existence of the camps; however, local police have confirmed the detention of large numbers of Uyghurs and their transfer to such camps.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the arbitrary and incommunicado detention of a scholar as part of sweeping measures by state authorities to restrict the right to academic freedom 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. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.