AAS Statement on Extra-Judicial Detention of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, PRC

March 27, 2019

The Association for Asian Studies expresses its strong concern over the detention of at least 800,000 and up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in political “re-education centers” in Xinjiang, Northwest China.1 Turkic Muslims have been interned, imprisoned, or forcibly “disappeared” since April 2017.2 Such detention constitutes a major violation of human rights and, in the case of our academic colleagues, a clear disregard for academic freedom.

We are particularly dismayed at the disappearance of at least 386 Uyghur intellectuals and scholars, including 21 staff of Xinjiang University, 15 staff of Xinjiang Normal University, 13 staff of Kashgar University, 6 staff of Xinjiang Medical University, 6 staff of the Xinjiang Social Sciences Academy, 4 staff from Khotan Teachers’ College, and 101 students.3 Turkic Muslims have been denied the freedom to use their mother tongue, to pursue Qur’anic studies, or to study and research abroad.4 Those returning to China from periods of study or research have been recalled, detained, questioned, or caused to disappear into internment camps.5 Five deaths of students and scholars while in custody have been confirmed during this period.6

The Association for Asian Studies is a non-political, non-profit international professional association comprising some 7,000 members committed to the free and open dissemination of knowledge in and about Asia. We are a global community whose work thrives on active interaction between scholars and students from around the world. We decry these detentions in Xinjiang and strongly urge the Chinese government to ensure the safe return of our colleagues and students.

AAS President Prasenjit Duara on behalf of the AAS Board of Directors


1. Adrian Zenz (2019) “‘Thoroughly reforming them towards a healthy heart attitude’: China’s political re-education campaign in Xinjiang”, Central Asian Survey, 38.1, 102-128, DOI: 10.1080/02634937.2018.1507997; Philip Wen, Michael Martina, Ben Blanchard, “In rare coordinated move, Western envoys seek meeting on Xinjiang concerns”, 15 Nov 2018, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-china-xinjiang-exclusive/exclusive-in-rare-coordinated-move-western-envoys-seek-meeting-on-xinjiang-concerns-idUKKCN1NK0GW.

2. For more details see Special Issue on Securitization, insecurity and conflict in contemporary Xinjiang edited by Joanne Smith Finley, Central Asian Survey, 38.1 (2019), https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/ccas20/38/1; Sean R. Roberts (2018), “The biopolitics of China’s ‘war on terror’ and the exclusion of the Uyghurs”, Critical Asian Studies, 50:2, 232-258, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2018.1454111.

3. Uyghur Human Rights Project report on the disappearance and detention of Uyghur intellectuals, 25 March 2019: https://docs.uhrp.org/pdf/Detained-and-Disappeared-Intellectuals-Under-Assault-in-the-Uyghur-Homeland.pdf.

4. Darren Byler, “The ‘patriotism’ of not speaking Uyghur”, SupChina, 2 Jan 2019, https://supchina.com/2019/01/02/the-patriotism-of-not-speaking-uyghur/.

5. Special Correspondent, “A summer vacation in China’s Muslim gulag: How one university student was almost buried by the ‘people’s war on terror’”, Foreign Policy, 28 Feb 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/02/28/a-summer-vacation-in-chinas-muslim-gulag/.

6. See, for example, ‘Two Uyghur students die in China’s custody following voluntary return from Egypt’, Radio Free Asia, 21 Dec 2017, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/students-12212017141002.html; Uyghur Human Rights Project, ‘Uyghur Human Rights Project condemns death in custody of scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim’, 29 Jan 2018, https://uhrp.org/press-release/uyghur-human-rights-project-condemns-death-custody-scholar-muhammad-salih-hajim.html