Rahile Dawut

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Xinjiang University professor Rahile Dawut, detained in 2017, possibly in connection with her ethnographic research on Uyghur religious culture.

Dr. Rahile Dawut is currently Professor at the School of Humanities at Xinjiang University and Director of Xinjiang Folklore Research Center. Her research mainly focuses on the folklore and local Islamic sacred sites of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

See: Five Uyghur Professors ‘Re-education Camps’

Rahile Dawut, Prominent Uyghur Scholar and Anthropologist, Missing

September 15, 2018

Dr. Rahile Dawut, a prominent Uyghur scholar and anthropologist has been missing since December 2017. She is a professor at Xinjiang University. It has been alleged that she has been detained – whereabouts unknown. No one seems to be aware of anything that she may have done that would lead to incarceration or a criminal charge. CCS has written the President of China requesting an explanation of Dr. Dawut’s whereabouts.

September 15, 2018

His Excellency Xi Jinping


The State Council General Office

2 Fuyoujie

Xichengqu, Beijingshi 100017

People’s Republic of China

Your Excellency:

The Committee of Concerned Scientists is an independent organization of scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and scientific freedom for colleagues all over the world.

We write to express our grave concerns for Rahile Dawut, a prominent Uyghur scholar and anthropologist who has been missing since December 2017. She is a professor at Xinjiang University and is considered an expert on Uyghur culture.

It is unknown where she is being detained. We are aware that thousands of Uyghurs have been sent to facilities that are unknown to the public, and we are deeply concerned that Professor Dawut may have been sent to such a place. We write to seek clarification as to her whereabouts. We are unaware of anything that she has done to cause her to be detained and if she has not committed a criminal offense she must be released immediately and unconditionally. The right to peaceful expression is a fundamental human right, as is the “right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community” – a right recognized in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We are profoundly concerned for the well-being of Rahile Dawut. The use of incommunicado detention is contrary to any laws and practices of due process and fair trials. As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, your government has committed to refrain from detentions of those who choose to exercise their right to free expression.

As scholars and scientists, it is clear to us that there must be respect for the rule of law, human rights, and treaty obligations. As her colleagues and fellow scholars, we urge you to seek and provide to us information on the whereabouts and legal status of Rahile Dawut. Unless she is charged with a legitimate criminal offense, we request you to see that she is released and allowed to resume her teaching and scholarly work without interference.

We thank you for your attention to this most serious matter, and we look forward to receiving your response.


Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich, Eugene M. Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists


Terry Branstad

US Ambassador to China

US Embassy in Beijing

No. 55 An Jia Lou Lu 100600

Tel: +86-10 8531-3000

Minister of Public Security

Zhao Kezhi Buzhang


14 Dongchanganjie

Dongchengqu, Beijingshi 100741

People’s Republic of China

Tel: +86 10 66262114

Email: gabzfwz@mps.gov.cn


Rahile Dawut

Testifying party

Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Relation to victim


About the victim

Professor Rahile Dawut is a scholar of Uyghur folklore and the geography of Uyghur Sufi shrines. She founded the Ethnic Minorities Folklore Research Center at Xinjiang University where she built an intellectual home for dozens of young researchers. She is widely celebrated for her pathbreaking work as one of the first female Uyghur academics to receive her PhD and rise through the ranks of Chinese academia.

Victim's location

Unknown, it is likely that she is being detained in Urumchi.

When victim was detained

Her detention was first made known to her students and colleagues around the world on December 4, 2017.

Reason given for detention

Unknown, it is likely she was detained both because she is a person of influence and because she researched Uyghur local knowledge and practices.

Victim's status


How did you learn about victim's status?

Her students and colleagues first learned of her detention via text messages sent from colleagues in China.

Additional information

To date, 18,000 people have signed a petition demanding Rahile's immediate release: https://www.change.org/p/xi-jinping-petition-for-the-immediate-release-of-professor-rahile-dawut-and-other-uyghur-scholars

The New York Times has also published a story about her detention: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/world/asia/china-xinjiang-rahile-dawut.html

[Xinjiang Victims Database]


Statement concerning the detention of Rahile Dawut, Professor of Uyghur folklore, detained in Xinjiang Posted on September 6, 2018

On behalf of the members of the Central Eurasian Studies society, we write to express our strong concern over the disappearance of our academic colleague Rahile Dawut. In November 2017 she suddenly vanished, and the CESS, based on evidence supplied by her colleagues and in the press, believes that she has been detained and is currently likely being held in one of the ‘political re-education centers’ set up by the Chinese government in the northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang.[i]

Rahile Dawut is a well-known and respected professor and scholar, a long-standing researcher of Uyghur culture and folklore, a prolific author and global project leader, and active mentor and colleague who has collaborated with many of our peers in the region. Her own ethnography and recordings stand by themselves as an archive of Uyghur cultural heritage, and she has done immense work to bring these traditions to a global stage in a series of national and international projects.[ii]

The academic community of CESS represents an interdisciplinary and international group of scholars committed to the free and open dissemination of knowledge in and about Central Eurasia. We were dismayed to learn of her disappearance, and consider that the Chinese government is ultimately responsible for her safety. We also know well that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs (both public figures as well as private citizens) are being held in China’s ‘re-education centers’ in Xinjiang.[iii] Such detention constitutes a major violation of human rights and freedoms, and in the case of our academic colleagues, also a clear and obvious disregard for academic freedom, a trend which is unfortunately increasing in many parts of the world today. The academic community of CESS condemns these detentions and wishes for the safe return of our colleague.

This statement has been co-signed by the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES).

a record of CESS’ public statements can be found here

[i] To raise attention and awareness, CESS has recently published a blog on the issues which contains links to further sources of news and scholarship, that may be found here.

[ii] We thank Rachel Harris for her help in the preparation of this statement.

[iii] For a recent report on these camps with contributions from CESS members see, for example, What Really Happens in China’s ‘Re-education’ Camps by Rian Thum or China is Treating Islam Like a Mental Illness by Sigal Samuel.