Jailed Uyghur scholar Rahile Dawut, who disappeared three years ago into Chinese custody and is believed held in an internment camp, will be honored on Thursday by New York-based rights group Scholars at Risk (SAR) with their Courage to Think Award 2020.
The award will be presented at a virtual conference, “Freedom to Think 2020: Responding to Attacks on Higher Education,” and will be accepted by Dawut’s daughter, Akeda Pulati, who described her mother in an SAR statement Wednesday as “a scholar, not a criminal.”
“She studies the folklore and cultural traditions of minority populations. That is not a threat to the government, other institutions, or the people of China,” Pulati said.
Dawut, an Associate Professor in the Human Science Institute of Xinjiang University and founder of the university’s Minorities Folklore Research Center, disappeared in December 2017 shortly after telling friends she was planning to travel from Urumqi, regional capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to Beijing.
Family members announced her disappearance in August 2018, and suspect she is among the more than a million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect ideas” who have been jailed or detained in re-education camps across the XUAR since 2017.
“The imprisonment of Dr. Dawut, an internationally recognized scholar of Uyghur culture, reveals the Chinese government’s blatant repression of voices and ideas it finds displeasing,” Scholars at Risk executive director Rob Quinn said, calling her forced disappearance “an atrocity.”
“This constricts academic activity and public expression, threatening minority traditions, histories, and languages,” Quinn said.
Speaking in an interview with RFA’s Uyghur Service, Akida Pulati vowed on Wednesday to continue to fight for her mother’s freedom.
“I want to tell the Chinese government that I’ll never stop advocating for her release. As the only daughter of my mother, I’ll continue to fight for her freedom. My voice will only grow louder day after day, and will never diminish.”
“I urge the Chinese government to immediately release my mother, Pulati said.
Targeted for repression
Uyghur intellectuals have been a notable target of repressive Chinese policies in the XUAR, with numerous academics and education administrators sent to camps or jailed in what Uyghurs say is a campaign to eradicate their culture.
The most notorious case is that of jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, a professor of economics at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, who was sentenced to life in prison for “separatism” by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court in the XUAR on Sept. 23, 2014, despite having worked for more than two decades to foster dialogue and understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.
An international coalition of elected lawmakers called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in October to launch an investigation into whether rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region amount to genocide and other crimes against humanity.
If the ICC decides to move ahead with an investigation, it would mark the first time the court serves as a venue for a case seeking to hold China accountable for its rights abuses in the XUAR.