No one outside the Chinese government knows where Tashpolat Tiyip is. No one knows exactly what charges have been filed against him. The only thing that anyone really knows is that in April 2017, as the geographer and former president of Xinjiang University in Ürümqi prepared to fly from Beijing to Berlin for a scientific conference and the launch of a research center, he disappeared without even a phone call to colleagues or family.
Six months later, a Chinese propaganda video emerged saying Tiyip was one of 88 scholars who had “deeply poisoned the minds” of students by approving textbooks with too much content from Uyghur sources—the ethnic group that makes up about half of Xinjiang province’s 24 million people. The video calls Tiyip and three other Uyghurs “two-faced” separatists before announcing their sentence: death, with a 2-year reprieve.
“It just doesn’t make any sense to anybody,” says Gary Langham, executive director of the American Association of Geographers (AAG), which last week sent Chinese president Xi Jinping a letter asking him to halt the execution and release Tiyip unless there is evidence he committed actual crimes. It was signed by more than 1300 researchers from 50 countries. (AAG took action after Amnesty International warned that Tiyip’s execution could be imminent.)
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