A former professor at Xinjiang University and leading scholar on Uyghur folklore, she is among more than 300 intellectuals, artists and writers believed to be detained in Xinjiang, amid a government campaign to better assimilate China’s Muslim minority and promote ethnic harmony. Rights groups have accused the Chinese government of committing “cultural genocide” by wiping out previously vibrant local Uyghur culture.
“The sentencing of Professor Rahile Dawut to life in prison is a cruel tragedy, a great loss for the Uyghur people, and for all who treasure academic freedom,” said John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation.
Dawut’s daughter, Akeda Pulati, said in a statement from the group, “I worry about my mother every single day. The thought of my innocent mother having to spend her life in prison brings unbearable pain. China, show your mercy and release my innocent mother.”
Last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for human rights, after a visit to Xinjiang and months of interviews, concluded that the Chinese government had committed violations that may amount to “crimes against humanity.”
Dawut’s case underlines the lengths of the government’s ongoing campaign where even public intellectuals firmly part of the establishment have been targeted.
A member of the Chinese Communist Party for many years, she received awards and grants from China’s Ministry of Culture, according to Dui Hua. Her work at Xinjiang University, which included the founding of an Ethnic Minorities Research Center in 2007, was also funded by the government.
In 2014, another prominent academic, Ilham Tohti who taught at Minzu University in Beijing, was sentenced to life in prison.
Dawut’s family announced her disappearance in 2018 and in 2021, former co-workers told Radio Free Asia that she had been imprisoned and sentenced but no details as to the length of her sentence were given.
“Confirmation of Rahile’s life sentence should give us pause to grasp the ruin visited on family lives of China’s genocide,” said Uyghur Human Rights Project’s director of research, Henryk Szadziewski.
“The Chinese state has taken a wrecking ball to any expressions of Uyghurness outside of its purview. As a gifted academic documenting Uyghur knowledge, targeting Rahile is no coincidence.”