Following a secret trial in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), Rashida Dawut, Uyghur singer celebrated for her love ballads has been sentenced to a lengthy prison term for “separatism”.
Dawut is a long-time member of the Xinjiang Muqam Troupe in the XUAR capital Urumqi who produced popular solo albums in the 1990s.
A source claiming to have close knowledge of the situation recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that she was sentenced to 15 years in jail for “separatism” by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court in late 2019.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, the source said that a number of people involved in the arts and literature in the XUAR had been informed of Dawut’s imprisonment, and several of them confirmed to RFA that she was sentenced, although they were unable to say for how long.
“I know that Rashida Dawut was sentenced, but I don’t know [the length],” a former member of the XUAR Song and Dance Troupe told RFA in a phone call, before hanging up.
An employee of the Bingtuan Opera Troupe—a name used to refer to the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC)—told RFA authorities had recently notified them that Dawut was sent to prison.
“I can’t answer that because I don’t know,” the employee said, when asked how many years Dawut had been sentenced to.
The employee said that a woman named Mahinur, who directs the opera’s dance group, was also present in the meeting where Dawut’s imprisonment was announced. Calls to Mahinur’s home went unanswered.
RFA spoke with both the Urumqi Women’s Association and the XUAR Women’s Association and was told by an official at the former that “no one at the office gave us any clear notice about that,” when asked the length of Dawut’s sentence.
RFA also spoke with employees of the municipal court system in Urumqi, including an employee with the Tianshan District People’s Court, who confirmed that the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court was responsible for Dawut’s verdict, but was unable to provide details of the sentence.
“I don’t know the answer to that—they didn’t tell us,” the staffer said.
“We don’t handle cases like this one. This was a different kind of case,” he said, suggesting that it was political, rather than criminal.
But a staffer at the criminal division of the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court told RFA he knew of Dawut’s verdict, and heard she was sentenced to 15 years.
“That was a case from last year … We haven’t gotten any sort of formal notification of the verdict here,” he said.
“I heard [she received]15 years … [The trial] took place before the new year.”
Other sources suggested to RFA that Dawut, who has family living in the U.S. state of Virginia, had spent time between 2018 and 2019 detained at one of the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslims since April 2017, although RFA was unable to independently verify the claim. (Source: RFA)