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: February 01, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Xinjiang University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In February 2018, state authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) reportedly detained Arslan Abdulla, dean of Xinjiang University’s School of Humanities, on undisclosed charges. 

Abdulla, a member of the Uyghur ethnic minority community, is a former professor of philology at Xinjiang University who had been serving as the dean of the School of Humanities. Abdulla’s research is primarily focused on the modern Uyghur language and sociolinguistics. He also served as the head of the XUAR People’s Government Cultural Advisors’ Office.

A month prior to Abdulla’s detention, three former and current literature professors at Xinjiang University were also taken into custody (see report)

While state authorities have not publicly disclosed Abdulla’s whereabouts, one of his colleagues suspects that he is being held at one of the so-called “re-education camps,” where as many as one million ethnic minorities in the XUAR are reportedly being held. Reports indicate that detainees include many prominent Uyghur, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh intellectuals and scholars. Detained academics have frequently been described by Chinese media and others as being “two-faced,” a term ascribed to ethnic minority members of the Communist Party accused of having “separatist tendencies.” Rights groups report that detainees at re-education 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 a scholar as part of sweeping state efforts to restrict 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.