SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: January 01, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Xinjiang University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In January 2018, state authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) reportedly detained one current and two former literature professors of Xinjiang University on undisclosed charges. 

The three scholars include Abdukerim Rahman, a former literature professor and renowned scholar noted as the “father of Uyghur folklore studies,” Gheyretjan Osman, a literature professor and researcher of classic Uyghur literature, and Azat Sultan, a former literature professor and former Vice President of Xinjiang University, who had been serving as the chairman of the Xinjiang Association of Literature and Art. 

Sources suggest that authorities may have targeted Sultan for “two-faced tendencies,” a term ascribed to ethnic minority members of the Communist Party who are suspected of supporting separatist efforts in the XUAR and other minority regions. A growing number of ethnic minority academics detained in the XUAR since 2018 have been described by the Chinese media and others as being “two-faced.”

A month after the detention of Sultan, Rahman, and Osman, authorities reportedly detained Arslan Abdulla, a former language professor at Xinjiang University (see report). 

While state authorities have not publicly disclosed the whereabouts of the scholars, sources suggest they are being held at a so-called “re-education camp,” where Chinese authorities have detained as many as one million members of the Uyghur, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh ethnic minority communities. These reportedly include a growing number of intellectuals and scholars. Reports indicate that detainees at such camps have been subjected to psychological and physical torture and have not been provided access to family or legal counsel.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the incommunicado detention of scholars as part of sweeping efforts by state authorities to restrict or retaliate against the right to academic freedom and freedom of association — conduct that is 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 to refrain from interfering with such conduct, so long as it is carried out peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such conduct undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.