This semester, the Critical Human Rights and Humanitarian Advocacy class in partnership with Scholars at Risk and taught by Prof. Dr. Kerry Bystrom, worked on designing an advocacy campaign to support detained and disappeared Uyghur scholars in the Xinjiang Autonomous region in China. The campaign consisted of the production of this short film and a series of informational social media posts through BCB’s Civic Engagement Facebook and Instagram accounts in the hopes to raise awareness of the community. Now, the campaign encourages students to get involved by signing a petition in support of academic freedom and the release of imprisoned scholars in the XUAR, China.
In short, what is happening in Xinjiang is the following:
In 2014, the Chinese government began implementing the “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism,” In the name of the ‘peoples war on terrorism,’ party officials have interned up to a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region of northwest China. The Chinese government has referred to these internment camps as “vocational education and training centers.” In reality, these secretive sites are more akin to concentration camps, where there have been reports of physical abuse, forced labor, systematic erasure of Uyghur and Muslim culture, and forced indoctrination into party ideology.
The minorities of the Xinjiang province have been placed under mass surveillance and every aspect of their lives is being closely monitored to make sure they strictly follow the orders of the Chinese government. Being a Uyghur or exhibiting any behavior or characteristics stereotypically associated with Islamism are the criteria by which one can be arrested.
Professor Ilham Tohti, a public intellectual and economics professor was convicted on charges of separatism and sentenced to life in prison in September 2014. Professor Tohti is a scholar of economics at the Central Minzu University in Beijing and an advocate for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority group. Professor Tohti promoted dialogue and reconciliation between Uyghurs and Han Chinese through his site, “Uighurbiz.net.”
Dr. Dawut is an Associate Professor in the Human Science Institute of Xinjiang University and founder of the Minorities Folklore Research Center in Xinjiang University. In December 2017, Dr. Dawut told a relative of her plans to travel from Urumqi to Beijing. Shortly thereafter, her family and friends lost contact with her. Professor Dawut’s disappearance was made public in August 2018. It is suspected that she is held by state authorities at an undisclosed location.
Dr. Rahile Dawut is this year’s recipient of the Courage to Think Award. Dr. Dawut is being recognized for her own work, as well as that of all the scholars and students of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, who together struggle for academic freedom and freedom of opinion, expression, belief, association, and movement.
For more information, the students are open to answer any questions and also recommend visiting the Scholars at Risk Scholars in Prison Project to learn more about the work that is being done.