World Science Day (November 10)

Detained Uyghur scientists are in need of support

On the occasion of World Science Day (November 10), the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) calls on Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, to use her visit to China at the beginning of December to advocate for a group of detained Uyghur scientists. “Years ago, in the course of the genocide crimes against the Uyghur people, the Chinese government had started to organize absurd court proceedings to sentence researchers such as Rahile Dawut or Ilham Tohti to life imprisonment,” stated Hanno Schedler, STP expert on genocide prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. “Both had tried to build bridges between the Uyghurs and the majority of the Chinese people. Nonetheless – or perhaps because of this – they came under the crosshairs of the government, which has no interest in reconciliation. The only ‘crime’ these researchers committed was that they are Uyghurs.” Over the last few years, hundreds of other Uyghur scientists, intellectuals, and writers were detained, placed in reeducation camps, or sentenced to long prison sentences.

Rahile Dawut, an ethnologist, had studied the Uyghur culture and history for decades. Despite being a member of the Chinese Communist Party, she was arrested in December 2017. It was not until the end of September of 2023 that it became known that she had – in 2018 – been sentenced to life in prison for alleged “separatism” and for “undermining state security”. She was one of the first Uyghur women to earn a doctorate. Her studies on the so-called “mazars”, Muslim shrines in Xinjiang / East Turkestan, and on Uyghur folklore and religious dances was quoted a lot. “Many of these shrines have meanwhile been destroyed or turned into attractions for Chinese tourists by order of the Chinese government. The aim is to wipe out the Uyghur culture as well as those who studied it. We are calling on Mrs. von der Leyen to use her visit to China to advocate for academic freedom and for the researchers,” Schedler added.

The Uyghur researcher Ilhm Tohti, who was arrested in January 2014 based on charges of separatism, was sentenced to life imprisonment and placed in solitary confinement in September 2014. Since 2017, his family is no longer allowed to visit him. Among other things, Tohti had discussed the economic and social discrimination of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang / East Turkestan and made concrete suggestions for a peaceful coexistence. Meanwhile, he was honored with the Weimar Human Rights Prize and the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament. “Ilham Tohti always tried to further a dialogue between the Uyghurs and the Chinese, to try to find solutions. The Chinese government could not tolerate this. In his work, he also focused on the topic of fighting poverty. Now, the Chinese government is using this term in a cynical way to whitewash its forced labor programs,” Schedler added.