BEIJING, China: A respected Uyghur scholar, known for her extensive work in studying Uyghur folklore and traditions, has been sentenced to life in prison, reports the U.S.-based Dui Hua Foundation, an organization focused on human rights cases in China.
During a secret trial, Rahile Dawut faced charges related to endangering state security in December 2018. While she appealed her conviction, it was ultimately upheld, leading to her life sentence.
John Kamm, the executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation, expressed his deep concern over the verdict, calling it a significant loss for both the Uyghur people and the cause of academic freedom.
Dawut, who served as a professor at Xinjiang University and founded the Ethnic Minorities Folklore Research Center there, vanished in late 2017 amidst a severe government crackdown targeting the Uyghurs, a primarily Muslim Turkic ethnic group native to China's Xinjiang region.
For years, her whereabouts and the nature of the charges against her remained undisclosed. However, the Dui Hua Foundation recently obtained a Chinese government document confirming her life sentence.
Dawut's contributions to academia were internationally recognized. She focused on studying sacred Islamic sites and Uyghur cultural practices across Xinjiang and Central Asia.
Dawut's case is not an isolated one. More than 400 prominent academics, writers, artists, and performers, all Uyghurs, are believed to be detained in Xinjiang. Critics argue that the Chinese government targets intellectuals to suppress Uyghur culture, language, and identity.
Many Uyghur scholars, including Dawut, have faced arrest despite their affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party and receiving grants and awards from the Chinese Ministry of Culture. This situation has shocked Uyghur studies scholars and led to calls for her release.
Dawut's daughter, Akeda Pulati, expressed her disbelief at the cruelty of her mother's life sentence, emphasizing her innocence.
Mukaddas Mijit, a Uyghur ethnomusicologist based in Brussels, highlighted Dawut's role as a vital mentor to many scholars early in their careers.
"She was a guardian of Uyghur identity, and that is something the Chinese government is after," Mijit said. "They want to erase everything, and they want Uyghurs to forget how beautiful and colorful a culture they had."