Star Scholar Disappears as Crackdown Engulfs Western China
URUMQI, China — She was one of the most revered academics through the Uighur ethnic minority in far western China. She had written extensively in addition to lectured across China in addition to the planet to explain in addition to celebrate Uighurs’ varied traditions. Her research was funded by Chinese government ministries in addition to praised by some other scholars.
Then she disappeared.
The academic, Rahile Dawut, 52, told a relative last December which she planned to travel to Beijing through Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region where she taught. Professor Dawut was in a rush when she left, according to the relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of punishment through the Chinese authorities.
She has not been heard through since, in addition to her family in addition to close friends are sure she was secretly detained as part of a severe clampdown on Uighurs, the largely Muslim group who call Xinjiang their homeland.
Professor Dawut’s trajectory — through celebrated ethnographer at Xinjiang University in Urumqi to clandestine detainee — illustrates a wider crackdown which has drastically constricted Uighur life in addition to culture.
The family member in addition to Professor Dawut’s friends said they decided to speak out currently, eight months after she vanished, because the idea had become clear which staying silent might not bring her Discharge through a re-education facility, detention cell or perhaps prison.
“Virtually all expressions of Uighurs’ unique culture are dangerous currently, in addition to there’s no better evidence of which than the disappearance of Rahile Dawut,” said Rian Thum, an associate professor at Loyola University fresh Orleans whose historical research on Uighur pilgrimages in addition to manuscripts drew on Professor Dawut’s pioneering studies. “There was a lot of wish which they might see which she was a nonthreat in addition to Discharge her, although which wish gradually dwindled.”
The Xinjiang region, more than anywhere else in China, has demonstrated how Xi Jinping, the country’s president in addition to Communist Party leader, is actually determined to redraw the boundaries of what is actually permitted in religion, academic research, civil society in addition to ethnic expression.
Under him, the government has redoubled a yearslong clampdown on Uighurs who are marked as potential supporters of independence or Islamist extremism. For many of Xinjiang’s 11 million Uighurs, their homeland has become a surveillance state swarming with checkpoints, security cameras in addition to armed patrols.
Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs have been kept in secretive re-education centers for weeks, months in addition to even years, scholars in addition to international human rights groups estimate. Uighurs have also experienced increasing restrictions on movement, prayer in addition to communications.
Chinese officials have mostly avoided acknowledging the mass internments. although not even moderate academics like Professor Dawut appear secure. The government has purged what the idea calls “two-faced” Uighur teachers in addition to officials suspected of secretly resisting the hard-line policies.
“Since Uighurs are currently collectively under suspicion, any Uighur academic with foreign ties is actually branded a ‘two-faced intellectual’ — disloyal to the state in addition to in need of re-education,” said Rachel Harris, who studies Uighur music at the School of Oriental in addition to African Studies in London in addition to knows Professor Dawut as a friend in addition to academic partner.
“The accounts of the ‘re-education’ regime which people are undergoing in those camps are harrowing,” Professor Harris said by email. “I imagine my lovely, principled, dedicated colleague there, in addition to I feel incredibly angry.”
some other prominent Uighurs who have vanished from the past two years, apparently into detention, include writers in addition to website operators, a soccer star in addition to a favorite musician, according to Radio Free Asia in addition to overseas Uighur groups with extensive contacts in Xinjiang.
At least one of Professor Dawut’s graduate students in China has also disappeared, according to John Kamm, founder of the Dui Hua Foundation in San Francisco, which lobbies the Chinese government on human rights cases. He said his attempts to get information about Professor Dawut through Chinese officials had been unsuccessful.
“Everyone who has known her is actually under suspicion,” Mr. Kamm said. “Rahile Dawut is actually the human face of This particular unspeakable tragedy.”
A month before Professor Dawut left her last message, her life had a semblance of normality. She gave a talk on Uighur women in November at Peking University, speaking to a forum of scholars who have backed Mr. Xi’s assimilationist ethnic policies in Xinjiang.
Uighurs are a Turkic people, much closer in appearance, language in addition to customs to peoples across Central Asia than the Han who make up the vast majority of China’s population. The Chinese government had long been wary of defiance through them, given Uighurs’ heritage in addition to history of independence. Official alarm skyrocketed after deadly riots in Xinjiang in 2009 in addition to a series of primitive although bloody assaults on Han people, police officers in addition to officials.
although until recently, Professor Dawut’s work was welcomed by Chinese bureaucrats, as evidenced by grants in addition to support she received through the Ministry of Culture. She had earned an international reputation as an expert on Uighur shrines, folklore, music in addition to crafts which had been neglected by previous generations of scholars.
“I was deeply drawn to This particular vivid, lively folk culture in addition to customs, so different through the accounts in textbooks,” she said in an interview having a Chinese art newspaper in 2011. “Above all, we’re preserving in addition to documenting This particular folk cultural heritage not to ensure the idea can lie in archives or serve as museum exhibits, although so the idea can be returned to the people.”
While Chinese policymakers worried which Uighurs were increasingly drawn to radical forms of Islam through the Middle East, Professor Dawut’s work portrayed Uighur heritage as more diverse in addition to tolerant, shaped by Sufi spiritual traditions anathema to modern-day extremists. In 2014, she told The fresh York Times which she worried about Uighur women drawn to conservative Islam.
After finishing her doctorate in Beijing, Professor Dawut began teaching at Xinjiang University, the region’s premier school. She founded a folklore institute in addition to shared her work in Europe in addition to the United States, becoming a guide to many foreign scholars.
“Most Western scholars doing research on Xinjiang knew to bring her coffee,” said Elise Anderson, a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University who worked with Professor Dawut. “I remember a lot of the time she might say, ‘Let’s take a break through work. Let’s drink some coffee.’”
Professor Dawut stayed away through political disputes about the future of Xinjiang. If she needed any warning about the risks, there was Ilham Tohti, a Uighur economist at Minzu University in Beijing in addition to measured critic of Chinese policy in Xinjiang. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 on charges of separatism. Seven of his students were also charged.
although Professor Dawut’s international prominence in addition to pride in Uighur traditions may help explain her downfall.
After Mr. Xi came to power in 2012 in addition to installed a hard-line party functionary to run Xinjiang, the drive to root out dissent here accelerated. Xinjiang University in addition to some other schools became a particular focus.
In March of last year, the university leaders were replaced, in addition to soon afterward a team of party inspectors reported which the university had been politically lax. The fresh administrators vowed to unmask “two-faced” Uighur academics who resisted the fresh orthodoxies. Research in addition to foreign ties which were once tolerated became increasingly suspect.
Xinjiang University held a rally of 4,300 teachers in addition to students who were warned which separatist sympathizers might be driven out like “rats crossing the road.”
“The Chinese government, after arresting Uighur government officials, Uighur rich people, they’ve begun to arrest Uighur intellectuals,” Tahir Imin, a former student of Professor Dawut, said through Washington, where he lives. “Right currently I can tell you more than 20 names, all prominent Uighur intellectuals.”
As her friends abroad expressed growing worry, Professor Dawut continued her teaching in addition to research as far as fresh restrictions allowed. She was also reluctant to leave her mother alone in Urumqi, Professor Harris said.
“I always tried to bring some freshly ground coffee with me when I visited her,” she said of Professor Dawut. “which’s a painful memory when I think of her life currently from the detention camp.”
Chris Buckley reported through Urumqi, China, in addition to Austin Ramzy through Hong Kong.