A leading Uyghur professor who disappeared six years ago is reported to have sentenced to life in prison by Chinese authorities for “endangering state security”.
Rahile Dawut, 57, who specialises in the study of Uyghur folklore and traditions and is considered an expert in her field, lost an appeal over her sentence after being convicted in 2018 on charges of promoting “splittism”, according to the US-based Dui Hua Foundation human rights group.
The group has spent years trying to locate Dawut. In a statement, it said it had received the information from a Chinese official and that it was seeking more information about Dawut from the government, including where she was, the state of her health and her right to have contact with family members.
John Kamm, Dui Hua’s executive director, said: “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. I call for her immediate release and safe return to her family.”
Dawut is believed to be among more than 300 Uyghur intellectuals who are known to have been detained, arrested and imprisoned since 2016. An estimated 1.5 million Uyghur people have been detained in “re-education” camps.
At the time of her arrest in December 2017, Dawut was teaching at Xinjiang University College of Humanities, where she also founded the Ethnic Minorities Research Centre in 2007.
In addition to her sentence, Dawut will be deprived of political rights for life, Dui Hua said.
The many academic institutions with which Dawut is associated through her work, including the universities of Harvard, Cornell, British Columbia, Pennsylvania, Washington, Indiana and Cambridge, have joined the appeal urging Chinese authorities to release her.
In a statement through Dui Hua, Dawat’s daughter Akeda Pulati called on the Chinese government to free her mother. “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,” she said.