Essay

The Disappearance of Rahile Dawut

A vanished professor, remembered by students and colleagues – Darren Byler

On December 4, 2017, the disappearance of Professor Rahile Dawut, an eminent scholar of the Uyghur ethnic minority which she herself belongs to, sent quiet shockwaves among her students and colleagues around the world. On that day she had packed her bags for a flight to Beijing from Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where the majority of Uyghurs live, and has not been seen since. Presumably she is being held in detention. The cryptic text messages a colleague sent regarding what happened did not provide many details. They ended with the message, “I am going to delete my VPN [virtual private network, for communicating behind the Chinese firewall] and never use it again. So please if you care about people here, stop asking questions.”

Dawut’s Uyghur students care too deeply to stop asking questions, but for many months they have kept their questions quiet.