Scholar’s Turn From ‘Two-Faced’ Uyghur to ‘Parrot’ of Party Line Draws Sympathy and ScornAugust 03, 2021
In 2018, a noted Uyghur professor of literature and culture was arrested and fired from her university job for publishing pointed criticism of China’s policies towards Muslim residents of Xinjiang. This year, she is part of an official propaganda campaign defending and supporting practices she once argued against.
In the three years since Gulnar Obul was detained and removed from her position at Kashgar University, developments in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have made the scholarly policy critiques from 2016 that landed her in trouble seem mild.
In her published dialogue with a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher, Obul said China’s quest for stability “cannot be achieved through documents or commands—it requires real cultural strength and ideas.”
“One of the drawbacks of the government is that many of the officials do not know much about Islam and its history,” she says.
“It is … impossible to put all the problems [in the XUAR] into a large basket of extreme religious forces,” Obul said.
The advice won praise in 2016 but as the XUAR crackdown intensified, she was branded a “two-faced” Uyghur official, accused of paying lip service to Communist Party rule in the region, but secretly chafing against state policies repressing the 12 million members of the ethnic group.
It is not clear how long Obul spent in detention and whether she spent time in a detention camp, following her arrest and removal from Kashgar University in September 2018. One Turkey-based Uyghur researcher estimated that she spent between two weeks to a month in detention.
This past February, however, Obul popped up at a news conference held by the XUAR Propaganda Department.
Now employed by the Xinjiang Bureau of Farm Machinery, she claimed that her listing among more than 5,000 Uyghur detainees in an archive of prisoners run by the Norway-based Uyghur Transitional Justice Database (UTJD) was false, endorsing officials accusations that the archive is fake.
In June, Obul testified before the United Nations that authorities in the XUAR had lifted more than 300 villages and 30 counties out of poverty, and that all of the ethnic groups in the region “live in harmony as pomegranate seeds.”
At a July 15 news conference, Obul promoted a Chinese government White Paper on the XUAR titled “Respecting and Protecting the Rights of All Ethnic Groups in Xinjiang,” which claimed that Beijing upheld political, economic, cultural, and social rights as well as freedom of religious belief throughout the region.
Uyghur exiles told RFA that Obul’s transformation and full rejection of her earlier research conclusions reflects a likely combination of harsh interrogation inside detention facilities and pressure on relatives that many Uyghurs have experienced since the crackdown deepened in 2017.