Uyghur high school principal sentenced to 18 years in prison
A Uyghur educator and principal of a high school in Korla (in Chinese, Kuerle) in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region is serving 18 years in jail for inviting two Uyghur scholars to give presentations, people with knowledge of the situation and a local police officer said.
Shortly after Sherep Heyit, who is in his 50s, began his career as a teacher, he became principal of Korla’s No. 6 High School, according to Husenjan, a former student of Sherep’s who now lives in exile.
Korla is the second-largest city in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is the capital of Bayin’gholin Mongol (Bayinguoleng Menggu) Autonomous Prefecture, the largest prefecture in China.
“I learned his sentence term of 18 years through a Chinese friend in inner China,” Husenjan said. “I was very saddened by this tragic news, but I was not surprised at all because it has been three or four years since he disappeared.
“He was an elite intellectual,” added Husenjan.
During his tenure as school principal, Sherep organized and held a number of cultural events to which he invited well-known Uyghur intellectuals Yalqun Rozi and Abduqadir Jalalidin to give lectures, he said.
The two intellectuals have been in prison since 2017, the year that Chinese authorities began detaining Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims in a vast network of “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, purportedly to prevent religious extremism and terrorism. About 1.8 million people are believed to have been held in the camps.
Authorities have targeted teachers and intellectuals in Xinjiang because they are the brains of Uyghur society and the most significant means of passing on Uyghur culture and identity, Abdureshid Niyaz, an independent Uyghur researcher based in Turkey, told RFA in a 2021 report.
Husenjan, who already knew that Sherep was being detained, said the form principal was sentenced because of his association with the two Uyghur scholars who gave lectures.
A Chinese police officer in Korla contacted by RFA said he was aware of Sherep’s arrest and detention and knew the officer who had been involved in the case. He also confirmed that Sherep was serving an 18-year sentence, though he didn’t know where or what had happened to the former principal’s family members.
“Our police station commander was the leading officer in his arrest and case,” the officer said. “He was sentenced to 18 years.”
Other Chinese police officers in Korla who were contacted by RFA said they didn’t know of Sherep.
Sherep graduated from a Chinese university outside Xinjiang and was skilled in both Chinese and English besides his own language, Husenjan said.
When the Chinese government stepped up its repression of the Uyghurs in 2017, Sherep was one of the first Uyghur elites to be abducted by authorities, he said.
Sherep quickly rose to prominence in Uyghur society in Korla and in the rest of Xinjiang because of his responsible work ethic and educational background, according to another former student who now lives in Japan.
“He was very influential in our school years from 1996 until we went to university after three years,” said the former student who did not want to be identified by name. “He was a very well-rounded educator. I was very sad when I heard the news that he had been sentenced to 18 years.”
Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.