China has sentenced a Uyghur university professor to life in prison

Chinese flag/ Photo EPA-EFE/MARK R. CRISTINO

China has sentenced a prominent Uyghur academic to life in prison for "endangering state security", a US human rights group said, citing a Chinese government source. Rights groups accuse Beijing of a campaign of mass imprisonment of Uighurs and abuses such as forced sterilization and cultural repression, which some government bodies, including the US State Department, have called "genocide".

The Dui Hua Foundation said Rahila Davut, 57, had her appeal against her December 2018 conviction rejected. "This is believed to be the first time a reliable source in the Chinese government has confirmed a life sentence," it added in a statement last week.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate of 99,9 percent, and acquittals are rare in that justice system. Before her arrest, Dawut was a professor at Xinjiang University, as well as a leading cultural anthropologist and ethnographer of Uyghur folklore.

She has been detained since December 2017 in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. Beijing has been accused of violating the rights of the mainly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority in the region, which it strongly denies. "The conviction is a cruel tragedy, a great loss for the Uighur people and for all who value academic freedom," said John Cam, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation.

"I call for her immediate release and safe return to her family," he added.

Davut was on a list of more than 300 Uyghur intellectuals detained, arrested or imprisoned by Chinese authorities since 2016, the group added.

She cooperated with many prominent Western institutions, such as Harvard and Cambridge universities, who requested her release. Some experts in Xinjiang say the alleged mass imprisonment of Uyghurs peaked in 2018, but that abuses have continued with increased levels of forced labor.

"I take care of my mother every day," said Akeda Pulati, Rahila Davout's daughter who lives in Seattle. "The thought that my innocent mother has to spend her life in prison brings unbearable pain. China, have mercy and release my innocent mother," Pulati added, the Dui Hua Foundation said.

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