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Uyghur university lecturer confirmed detained in China’s Xinjiang region

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A Uyghur lecturer from a university in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region has been sentenced to prison for “disregarding the national language,” by failing to teach in Chinese, a Uyghur source in the town of Ghulja and local officials told RFA.

Dilmurat Awut, 65, was a senior literature teacher at Ili Pedagogical University in Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) and was deputy Chinese Communist Party secretary of the school’s Marxism Institute, said a source in the city who has knowledge of the situation.

Awut is among a group of more than 20 educators at the university that an earlier RFA report said have been detained. Not all of the names of the educators have been publicly released.

Awut held administrative positions in the school’s institutes of political education and philology until his abduction in 2017. He was well respected but at times clashed with the Chinese administrators at the school, said the source, who declined to be named for safety reasons.

When government authorities banned of the usage of Uyghur language at the university, Awut sometimes continued to use his native tongue whenever his students had difficulty mastering the course material when presented in Mandarin Chinese, the official language.

In 2017, Awut was investigated on allegations that he taught in the Uyghur language and was sentenced to prison for the transgression, local education officials said.

When RFA called the university to inquire about the “crimes” of teachers there, including Awut, an official in the Education Department said he could not provide information because it was a “state secret.”

A disciplinary officer at the university, however, confirmed that Awut was among the teachers who had been detained.

The officer did not know the length of Awut’s sentence.

“I heard that Dilmurat was abducted; that’s what I know,” he said. “The rest I don’t have the authority to know. I don’t know how many years [he was sentenced to]. I don’t know this information since I’m not a member of law enforcement.”

Behtiyar Nasir, a student of Awut’s in the 1980s who now lives in the Netherlands, recalled his former teacher as being an outspoken, cheerful and active person.

“Dilmurat taught us philology,” said Behtiyar Nasir, who is now the deputy inspector general of the World Uyghur Congress. “He was medium height and white faced. A friendly teacher.”

A former Ghulja educator named Yasinjan, who now lives in Turkey, recalled that Awut had been questioned several times on suspicion of “opposing the national language.”

“Dilmurat Awut was investigated a few times by the Chinese authorities for not speaking in Chinese in school,” he said.

One of Awut’s former students who now lives overseas told RFA that the university lecturer has two children, and that his son, Dilyar, is living in the United States. RFA has been unable to locate the son.

Before 2017, Chinese authorities sought to arrest Uyghurs in Xinjiang who were known to have anti-China sentiments, the source in Ghulja said.

Since then, however, officials have abducted Uyghurs simply considered “likely to resist,” including the university teachers, because of their social influence and personal character even if they have not actively shown resistance to the China’s repressive policies, the source said.

Some of the detainees ended up in prison, while others were interned in China’s vast network of “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, he said.

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.