In late November 2018, authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) reportedly arrested Askar Yunus, a prominent historian, on undisclosed charges.
Yunus, a member of the Kyrgyz ethnic community, is a historian at the Academy of Social Sciences of Xinjiang where he specializes in the ethnic history of the region. Yunus has published extensively on the Kyrgyz “golden era” and Kyrgyz-Chinese relations. He is also a member of the Chinese Intellectual Foreign Affiliation Society and the Xinjiang History Association.
Few details of Yunus’s arrest are available. Sources indicate that he was arrested at his home in Urumqi. Academy personnel have confirmed his arrest, but have been unable or unwilling to disclose further details.
His arrest occurs against the backdrop of an apparent campaign by Chinese authorities to detain large numbers of ethnic minorities in the region, 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.” One source suggested that authorities may have targeted Yunus as a “two-faced official,” a term used to describe party members who are suspected of supporting separatist efforts in the XUAR and other minority regions.
As of this report, there is no information available regarding Yunus’s whereabouts or what charges have been brought against him if any.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of 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.