Uyghur Literature Professor Confirmed Detained in Xinjiang

Gheyratjan Osman is serving a 10-year sentence on vague separatism charges, based on his teaching of Uyghur culture.

A professor who has researched and written about classical Uyghur literature for more than 40 years is serving a prison sentence of 10 years in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, university officials and other sources inside the restive region confirmed to RFA.

 Gheyratjan Osman, a prolific academic at Xinjiang University’s School of Philology, was taken away in 2018 amid a purge of Uyghur intellectuals and cultural leaders – one of a set of Chinese government policies that have been determined by the United States and others as constituting genocide.

The abuses also include forced labor at factories and farms, forced birth control, and the detention of up to 1.8 million Uyghurs in a network of internment camps.

Gheyratjan, 63, who has written more than 30 books and 100 scholarly papers and has attended dozens of international academic conferences, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on vague separatism charges in May 2020, sources said. Among evidence presented against him were his having given a lecture at a university in Japan and having attended a conference on Turkology in Turkey, the sources said.

His sentencing came to light when his family recently received a notice that he had been handed a 10-year sentence, delivered by an official from Xinjiang University, where Gheyratjan had spent most of his career, said a source familiar with the situation who declined to be identified in order to speak freely.  

During the past year, Xinjiang University has held a number of secret meetings for administrators in which school officials report on the alleged crimes and fates of detained instructors, the source said. The meetings appear to be meant in part to serve as a warning to administrators and are kept secret from instructors and students, he said.

Officials at one meeting gave information about Gheyratjan, saying that he had “rejected national culture” — a reference to majority Han Chinese culture — and “inculcated separatist ideology in generations of Uyghur students” through excessive praise of Uyghur culture in his research, he said.

When Gheyratjan previously was a visiting researcher at a XUAR government research institute for science and culture, “problems” had been discovered in some of the lectures he gave there, the source said. 

The professor had lectured at a university in Japan, where some of the examples he used in class may have been considered a “rejection of Chinese culture,” he said. Gheyratjan also participated in a conference in Bursa, Turkey, in 2008, where he discussed Uyghur culture, which authorities interpreted as “separatist propaganda.”

The matter is a ‘state secret’

An employee of Xinjiang University’s cadre department declined to speak about the professor during a call from an RFA reporter, though the staffer did not deny reports that Gheyratjan had been sentenced.

A second university official mentioned Gheyratjan by name when RFA asked about which instructors’ prison sentences had been discussed recently during a meeting at the school, but the person declined to provide additional information, including the reason for his conviction and jailing. 

A third Xinjiang University staff member confirmed that the professor was in prison, although he said he did not know the reason.

Asked about the accuracy of the various accounts of the scholar’s case, university officials said the matter constituted a “state secret,” which meant they could not answer the question.

Gheyratjan was born in the town of Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) in 1958 and admitted to the Xinjiang University Department of Uyghur Language and Literature in 1978, according to an online biography.

The professor spent the next 40 years of his life teaching and researching at Xinjiang University up to the time he was detained by authorities in 2018.

His published works included Uyghurs in the East and the West and The History of Classical Uyghur Literature. Additionally, he contributed to the development of literature curriculum and textbooks for students studying Uyghur language and literature at Xinjiang University, and advised generations of young Uyghur graduate students.  

Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.


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