Editorial Board – WHEN DETAINED in China, political prisoners often disappear for months at a time. Sometimes, they reappear after lengthy interrogation, having made a coerced “confession” that is then televised. Others are less fortunate, reduced to just an announcement that they were convicted without access to family or lawyers. Still others are tortured and denied medical care and die without ever resurfacing.
Given this reality, the case of Tashpolat Teyip is particularly murky and worrisome.
Mr. Teyip is an ethnic Uighur professor of geography. From 2010 until 2017, he was president of Xinjiang University, the leading institution of higher learning in the Xinjiang region in northwest China, home to millions of Turkic Muslim ethnic Uighurs. In the past two-and-a-half years, China has been carrying out a drive to corral 1 million or more Uighurs and others into the equivalent of concentration camps in order to wipe out their traditional language, traditions and mind-set in favor of that of the majority Han Chinese. China at first denied their existence, and now describes the camps as small and benign — “retraining centers” is one favored phrase.
In 2017, Mr. Teyip vanished. According to a dispatch from Radio Free Asia, on March 31, 2017, it was announced to Communist Party officials that he was being replaced as head of the university, and that he had been detained. RFA also reported that Mr. Teyip’s name was stricken from the official list of presidents of Xinjiang University. He had published five books and numerous articles and earned a PhD at Tokyo University of Science. More recently, RFA said students and faculty had been shown a police documentary film, which reported that Mr. Teyip had been sentenced to death, with the sentence suspended for two years. The nature of the charges is not clear, but RFA said it was a lack of loyalty in supporting government policy.
Amnesty International has issued an urgent bulletin, warning that Mr. Teyip may soon be executed. The alert says he “was convicted in a secret and grossly unfair trial. Subjected to an enforced disappearance in 2017, he has been arbitrarily detained since then. No information has been made available about charges and proceedings against him and his current whereabouts remain unknown.”
Amnesty did not say why it raised its alarm, but the two-year clock on his suspended sentence may be running out. RFA quoted his brother, Nuri Teyip, as saying China is “taking swift action to exterminate scholars in the interest of rewriting history” in the Xinjiang region. “All of the intellectuals and outstanding scholars are being charged with groundless crimes, and just one of them is my brother,” he said. “I call on the international community to act and save not only my brother, but my people as a whole.”
Chinese diplomats in the West are decrying the souring of U.S.-China relations, and we agree that the governments should cooperate when they can. But China’s Communist rulers cannot behave with this sort of barbarity and secrecy, and simultaneously expect to enjoy the world’s respect.