The daughter of a prominent Uyghur academic reportedly jailed for life in China has appealed for support from scholars around the world, saying authorities have shown her mother no mercy. The human rights group Dui Hua said last month that China had sentenced Rahile Dawut to life behind bars for “endangering state security,” although the government has remained silent about the case.
A leading scholar who had written extensively on Uyghur folklore, Dawut is one of more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities to be swept up in a broad crackdown by the Chinese government in its northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Her daughter, Akeda Pulati — who now lives in the United States — told she hoped her mother’s fellow academics in universities across the world could help put pressure on Beijing. “I hope they don’t stay silent,” she said. “I want the world and humanitarian organizations to never forget about the Uyghur people, they are still suffering,” she said in a phone interview.
Pulati said she was still in contact with family in Xinjiang — who say that her mother is alive, but she can not ask them for further details. “I need to make sure they are safe, I don’t want to bring any trouble to them,” she said.
Pulati voiced anger and frustration at the lack of information from the authorities, as well as the reported sentence. “I know… the Chinese government has no mercy for Uyghur people and for my mother, but this result is far beyond my imagination,” she said. “This will be unimaginable, unbearable pain for the rest of my life, if my mom has to spend her life in prison.”
The silence from authorities deepened her fears. “I assume it’s really bad because if she’s doing okay, why can’t I talk to her?”
– ‘PRESERVING CULTURE’ –
In many ways, Dawut was a model Chinese citizen: an internationally renowned scholar and reportedly a Communist Party member, she blazed a trail for women in her field. “She showed me how much a woman can achieve,” Pulati said. “All she was doing was just studying the culture and preserving the culture,” she said.
Pulati tied the sentencing to a broader crackdown on Xinjiang’s intellectuals — a campaign rights groups say has seen hundreds of scholars, doctors, journalists and others detained. “The Chinese government wants to persecute the Uyghurs and they want to erase Uyghur culture identity by persecuting and imprisoning Uyghur intellectuals,” she said.
China insists that Uyghurs rounded up into re-education camps have now “graduated” and live happier lives free from extremism. Analysts counter that some camps have been refitted as others have shut down — and that thousands, like Dawut, have been placed into long-term detention.
The United States government has condemned Dawut’s reported sentence, urging Beijing to “immediately” release her and others unjustly detained. The United Nations has insisted it is still pushing for accountability for abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, after rights groups slammed its “woefully inadequate” response to the crisis.
And Washington has sought to block Chinese companies involved in alleged forced labour in the region from entering the American market. But Pulati worries that the world has stopped paying attention to the situation in Xinjiang — and says much more can be done. “Every time something big happens the Uyghur people are usually being forgotten by the international community,” she said.