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: September 19, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Loss of Position

Institution(s):Kashgar University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In September 2018, it was reported that the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) Education Supervision Bureau ordered the dismissal of four scholars and leaders of Kashgar University (KU) for alleged “separatist tendencies.”

The four include KU president Erkin Omer, vice president Muhter Abdughopur, and professors Gulnar Obul, and Qurban Osman. Sources indicate that their names had been removed from the university’s website as of September 2, 2018. According to a KU staff member, the four had been labeled “two-faced Uyghurs,” a term used to describe Communist Party members in China’s minority regions who are suspected of supporting separatism. Higher education authorities have not publicly disclosed the evidentiary basis of their dismissals or the “two-faced” accusations.

According to Radio Free Asia, professor Obul was detained following her dismissal, apparently for an article she published in 2016 on Uyghur culture and history, which reportedly included discussion of religious extremism.” Her whereabouts are unknown, as of this report.

The dismissals and the detention occurred against the backdrop of a state crackdown on minority communities in the XUAR, which has been marked by heightened pressures on scholars and intellectuals in the region. Human rights experts have reported that as many as more than one million people from the region have been detained without charge and are being held in so-called “re-education camps.” 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 use of dismissals and detentions as part of sweeping measures by state authorities to restrict the right to academic freedom — 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.