Missing Scholar Has Yet to be Reunited with Family After Four Years


Erin Wendt


Rahile Dawut stands between two shrines in the Xinjiang region in China. Photo courtesy of Lisa Ross.

Dr. Rahile Dawut, mother, scholar, and expert of Uyghur studies at Xinjiang University in China, disappeared in 2017 when traveling to Beijing and her whereabouts were unknown until 2021. Chinese authorities confirmed Dawut had been imprisoned and sentenced with a statement released on June 30, 2021, but no more information about her charges or length of imprisonment were released. 

Dawut is one of many scholars and citizens in China’s Xinjiang region — the northwest corner of the country — to be imprisoned for practicing or speaking out about their religious beliefs. The predominant religion in the Xinjiang region is Islam and more than 11 million people there identify as Turkic Uyghur, which is the minority in China compared to the secular Han government. China has been in control of the Xinjiang region for decades, but only recently have the human rights violations been gaining international media attention. Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region have been subjected to heavy surveillance, restrictions, and forced labor and sterilizations. More than one million Uyghur Muslims have been sentenced to prison or “re-education camps” for publicly practicing their religion. 

Students and citizens across the United States can act and speak out against the wrongful imprisonment of Dawut and the millions of other Uyghurs imprisoned and under heavy surveillance. First, students can learn more about Dawut’s story by visiting her daughter’s page, freemymom.org, to find links to share her story on social media pages, to sign the petition demanding her release, and email or send a letter to authorities and representatives. To contact your representative, visit the United States House of Representatives website and follow the instructions outlined there.

Other steps students can take include visiting UNO’s Scholars At Risk Instagram page, and the Scholars At Risk website and Twitter to learn about other scholars throughout the world who have been imprisoned for speaking out and to learn more about what can be done.