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: October 04, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution


Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In October 2018 it was reported that Chinese authorities sentenced internationally renowned geographer and former Xinjiang University (XJU) president Tashpolat Tiyip to death. He has reportedly been in detention since 2017.

Since 1992, Dr. Tiyip has published five books and over 200 scholarly articles and has led 17 national and international research projects. Prior to serving as president of XJU and Communist Party deputy secretary from 2010, Dr. Tiyip was the dean of the university geography department.

On March 31, 2017, XJU reportedly announced on its website that Dr. Tiyip had been removed from his position, without providing any explanation. Following the announcement, Tiyip reportedly disappeared from public view. At least two sources report that he was arrested in May 2017 at an airport in Beijing. By the time sources began to inquire into Dr. Tiyip’s whereabouts, XJU had removed Dr. Tiyip’s name from its list of past university presidents.

In October 2018, reports surfaced that state authorities convicted and sentenced Dr. Tiyip to death, with a two-year reprieve, on a charge of “separatism.” Authorities have not publicly disclosed the evidentiary basis of the charge; however, one source has suggested that authorities have accused Dr. Tiyip of being a “two-faced official,” a term used to describe Communist Party members who are suspected of supporting separatist efforts in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and other minority regions.

Information regarding Dr. Tiyip’s whereabouts, his access to family and legal counsel, and whether he has filed an appeal is unavailable as of this report. At the end of the two year deferral, authorities may execute or reduce Dr. Tiyip’s sentence.

The detention and prosecution of Dr. Tiyip occurs against the backdrop of an apparent campaign by Chinese authorities to detain large numbers of ethnic minorities in the XUAR, including many prominent Uyghur, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh intellectuals and scholars. Human rights groups estimate that as many as one million members of these minority communities have been detained at so-called “re-education camps.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention, prosecution, and sentencing 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.

UPDATE: On September 9, 2019, Amnesty International reported that Dr. Tiyip was at risk of execution. According to the scholar’s brother, who spoke with Radio Free Asia, Dr. Tiyip was sentenced in 2017 and could face execution this month as the two-year reprieve nears its end. The scholar’s brother told RFA that he had not received any news about Dr. Tiyip as he is unable to communicate with him from the US, where he currently resides in exile. As of this update, there is no further evidence confirming the timeline of a potential execution.