Rahile Dawut, a well-known Uyghur academic who went missing six years ago during the Chinese government’s crackdown in Xinjiang, has received a life sentence in prison, as reported by a human rights organization dedicated to locating missing individuals.
Formerly a professor at Xinjiang University and a leading expert on Uyghur folklore, she is among more than 300 intellectuals, artists, and writers who are believed to be detained in Xinjiang as part of the government’s ostensibly ethnically harmonizing campaign targeting China’s Muslim minority.
Rights groups have accused the Chinese government of engaging in “cultural genocide” by erasing the once-vibrant local Uyghur culture.
Akeda Pulati, Dawut’s daughter, expressed her concerns in the statement issued by the human rights group, saying, “Every day, I worry about my mother. The idea of my innocent mother spending the rest of her life in prison is unbearably painful. China, please show mercy and release my innocent mother.”
Dawut’s case highlights the extent of the government’s ongoing campaign, which has even targeted public intellectuals who were previously considered part of the establishment.
In 2014, another prominent academic, Ilham Tohti, who taught at Minzu University in Beijing, was also sentenced to life imprisonment.
Dawut’s family reported her disappearance in 2018, and in 2021, former colleagues informed Radio Free Asia that she had been imprisoned and sentenced, although no details regarding the length of her sentence were provided.
“Confirmation of Rahile’s life sentence should give us pause to grasp the ruin visited on family lives of China’s genocide,” Uyghur Human Rights Project’s director of research, Henryk Szadziewski, said.
“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.”