Rahile Dawut was targeted for her work to protect and preserve Uyghur culture, State Department says.
The U.S. Department of State condemned Beijing in a statement Friday for secretly imposing a life sentence on a Uyghur folklore expert and ethnographer who disappeared in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region nearly six years ago.
Rahile Dawut was tried and convicted in December 2018 for the crime of “splittism,” a U.S.-based rights group reported last week, citing a source within the Chinese government.
The State Department statement said Dawut and other Uyghur intellectuals were unfairly imprisoned for their work to protect and preserve Uyghur culture and traditions.
“Professor Dawut’s life sentence is part of an apparent broader effort by the PRC to eradicate Uyghur identity and culture and undermine academic freedom, including through the use of detentions and disappearances,” the statement said, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
It called on Beijing to end “genocide and crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and other minority groups, and to honor its commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“We continue to call on the PRC government to immediately release Professor Dawut and all individuals who are unjustly detained,” the statement said.
Dawut, 57, is the creator and former director of Xinjiang University’s Minorities Folklore Research Center. She penned articles in international journals and several books about Islamic sacred sites in Central Asia.
An anthropologist by training, she mysteriously disappeared in December 2017, the same year that Chinese authorities launched a mass incarceration campaign in Xinjiang.
After years of silence on her case, RFA Uyghur learned in July 2021 through interviews with employees at the university that she was in fact among the many other members of the Uyghur intellectual and cultural elite who were detained in 2017, and she was sentenced and jailed in 2018.
China has detained as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs in detention camps constructed in 2017. Beijing first denied the existence of the camps, but later described them as vocational training or re-education centers aimed at combating terrorism in Xinjiang.
Western governments and rights groups have accused China of targeting of intellectuals, artists, teachers and cultural figures in an effort to erase the Uyghur identity, with many coming to the conclusion in 2021 that Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities was genocide. China rejects the accusation.
Source: RFA News