(New York, NY) — Former coworkers of Uyghur academic Rahile Dawut—who disappeared nearly four years ago and was believed to be in Chinese custody—confirmed this week that authorities have sentenced and imprisoned her. Chinese government officials have still not shared any information about Dawut’s detention, criminal charges, or imprisonment, to either Dawut’s family or the public. PEN America today called for her immediate release.

“Rahile Dawut’s case is yet another chilling example of the Chinese government’s attempts to eradicate Uyghur cultural life by whatever means necessary,” said James Tager, director of research at PEN America. “Whatever criminal charge she was convicted under, it is clear that her true crime was that of being a Uyghur cultural scholar and intellectual. Particularly alarming is the Chinese government’s complete silence on Dawut’s case, leaving her loved ones in the dark for years. Yet even without any information from the government, it is certain that Dawut did not receive a fair trial. We call on the Chinese government to immediately release Rahile Dawut and to vacate her conviction. We also call for the release of every other Uyghur individual who has been imprisoned for expressing their cultural or religious identity.”

Dawut’s family first announced her disappearance in August 2018, and in 2019 Dawut’s daughter, Akida Polat, went public with the news that she had received information that Dawut was in custody. Dawut is an internationally-acclaimed Uyghur scholar and ethnographer whose work focused on folklore traditions of the Uyghur people. A champion of Uyghur cultural heritage, Dawut founded the Ethnic Minorities Folklore Research Center at Xinjiang University in 2007.

Dawut is just one of many Uyghur academics and cultural figures being targeted for imprisonment or detention, amid the government’s internment campaign against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. PEN America has previously labelled the government’s targeting of Uyghur scholars “an outrageous abdication of the rule of law.” PEN America’s 2020 Freedom to Write Index includes the cases of 33 imprisoned Xinjiang writers, although the report notes that this figure is certainly far from complete, “given the government’s highly effective tactics to essentially cut off the region from the rest of the world—from censoring domestic media, to restricting foreign media access, to imposing totalitarian levels of control over the populace itself.”