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 28, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution


Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In September 2018, it was reported that Chinese authorities had issued a two-year suspended death sentence to Halmurat Ghopur, a scholar of medicine and a former president of Xinjiang Medical University (XMU) Hospital, “for exhibiting ‘separatist tendencies.’”

Ghopur was most recently president of the Department of Inspection and Supervision at the Xinjiang Food and Drug Administration. It is unclear when and under what exact circumstances he left XMU. One source indicated that he had a “successful career,” and suggested that he and another senior administrator had a dispute over university policies, including over students’ ability to wear traditional Muslim dress.

In November 2017, police detained Ghopur at his office, apparently as part of an investigation into alleged “acts against the state.” Authorities have since held Ghopur at an unknown location. As of this report, there is no information indicating that he has access to family or legal counsel, or has filed an appeal.

News of Ghopur’s sentencing was reportedly derived from a “political study” video for government officials that featured Ghopur and other intellectuals. Authorities have not publicly disclosed the evidentiary basis of his detention or sentencing; however, an anonymous source from the Xinjiang Association of Literature and Art suggested that authorities alleged Ghopur “used his position as a lecturer to carry out anti-government propaganda.” One news source has indicated that authorities may have targeted Ghopur for being a “two-faced” official, a term used to describe Communist Party members who are suspected of supporting separatist efforts in the XUAR.

Ghopur’s detention and sentencing occurred against the backdrop of an apparent campaign by Chinese authorities to detain large numbers of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), including many prominent Uyghur, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh intellectuals and scholars. Human rights groups estimate that as many as one million members of these communities have been detained at so-called “re-education camps.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention, prosecution, and impending death sentence of a scholar as part of sweeping measures by state authorities to restrict the right to academic freedom and freedom of religion — 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 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.