At least four Uyghur senior officials from a top university in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), have been removed from their posts for “two-faced” activities, according to official sources.
A Uyghur source with ties to Kashgar University, who is currently living in exile, informed RFA’s Uyghur Service recently on condition of anonymity that the school’s president Erkin Omer, vice president Muhter Abdughopur, and professors Qurban Osman and Gulnar Obul, had all been scrubbed from its official website as of Sept. 2.
A further investigation of the website found an official news report which said that a decision was made to expel the four professors based on “a comprehensive probe” and “serious consideration” of their cases during a Sept. 2 meeting of high-level cadres at Kashgar University led by a disciplinary committee from the XUAR Education Supervision Bureau.
The report said that the four were sacked based on indications that they exhibited “separatist tendencies” related to their political stance, although it did not state what their exact offenses were, or how they were punished.
While the four professors’ bios had been removed from the Kashgar University website, articles attributed to them remained accessible via other university websites.
RFA contacted a staff member at Kashgar University’s administration office, who confirmed that the four professors had all been removed from their posts.
“Erkin Omer, Muhtar, Kurban [and] Gulnar … were all ‘two-faced,” the staffer said, using a term applied by the government to Uyghur cadres who pay lip service to Communist Party rule in the XUAR, but secretly chafe against state policies repressing members of their ethnic group.
The staffer said that he was unsure whether they are currently at home or detained in the network of political “re-education camps” authorities in the XUAR have detained Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in since April 2017.
“There is some additional information I know, but I’m unable to tell you,” he said.
“You can come to visit us and we can organize a meeting with the lecturers and leaders.”
The staffer said that while the school had found a new vice president, “the new president has not been appointed yet.”
Since new leadership had been appointed at the school “all tasks are being attended to thoroughly and the university is managing very well,” the staffer added.
During a telephone interview, an official in Kashgar who also asked to remain unnamed told RFA that Obul had been detained for publishing an article about Uyghur culture and history that included her opinions on religious extremism in 2016.
The official said that while her views were praised at the time, they were now deemed to “go against government policy,” and that “for this reason, she was accused of being ‘two-faced.’”
The article, titled “Dialogue on Cultural Formation in Xinjiang,” contains excerpts of a discussion between Obul and Wang Lisheng, a professor with the Economic Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in China’s capital Beijing.
“It is … impossible to put all the problems [in the XUAR] into a large basket of extreme religious forces,” Obul said, according to the article.
“When a person can't find his roots of his national culture, his thoughts become confused and he can't find where he belongs, and he will be pushed away by the forces of social customs,” she adds.
“This is actually related to a lack of cultural confidence … [and] reminds us that it is really time to think seriously about our cultural identity. As a part of the Chinese national culture, Uyghur culture has a complete set of cultural traditions that have a long history which need to be categorized and passed on.”
Obul also questions Beijing’s efforts at creating “long-term stability” in the XUAR, saying “it cannot be achieved through documents or commands—it requires real cultural strength and ideas” to remove resistance to China’s rule of the region.
“One of the drawbacks of the government is that many of the officials [in the XUAR] do not know much about Islam and its history,” she says.
“During the transformation of contemporary thought, Uyghur intellectuals were left out of the movement.”
Last week, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the U.S. government was "deeply troubled" by the crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, adding that “credible reports indicate that individuals sent by Chinese authorities to detention centers since April 2017 numbers at least in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions.”
The official warned that “indiscriminate and disproportionate controls on ethnic minorities’ expressions of their cultural and religious identities have the potential to incite radicalization and recruitment to violence.”
A group of U.S. lawmakers, in a recent letter, asked President Donald Trump’s administration to “swiftly act” to sanction Chinese government officials and entities complicit in or directing the “ongoing human rights crisis” in Xinjiang.
The position of China's central government authorities has evolved from denying that large numbers of Uyghurs have been incarcerated in camps to disputing that the facilities are political re-education camps. Beijing now describes the camps as educational centers.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the re-education camps, which equates to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region.
Uyghur educators are kept under strict monitoring in the XUAR and can face stiff punishment for not adhering to Beijing’s narrative about how China’s central government’s policies are benefitting the region and its ethnic minorities.
In September 2014, a court sentenced outspoken economics professor Ilham Tohti, who regularly highlighted the religious and cultural persecution of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority in the XUAR, to a life term behind bars on charges of promoting separatism.
The court decision cited Tohti’s criticism of Beijing’s ethnic policies, his interviews with overseas media outlets, and his work founding and running the Chinese-language website Uighurbiz.net, which was shut down by Chinese authorities in 2014.
But rights groups say that instead of urging the separation of the XUAR—the Uyghur people’s historic homeland—from China, Tohti had called only for China to implement its own regional autonomy laws and had consistently promoted peace and dialogue between the Han Chinese and Uyghur communities, and have demanded his release.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.