The last time Akida Pulat saw her mother, renowned Uighur anthropologist Rahile Dawut, was in 2016. Dawut had come as a visiting scholar to the University of Washington, where Pulat was studying for her master’s degree. She remembers her mother spending hours cooking Uighur polo, a traditional dish of rice mixed with carrots and topped with lamb, for her newly made Chinese and American friends. When Pulat said goodbye to her mother at the airport, she promised she’d go back home to Ürümqi to visit the next year.

But the planned trip home never happened. In December 2017, Pulat received a voice message from Dawut saying she needed to go to Beijing and wouldn’t be able to call her that night. Administrators at Xin­jiang University, where Dawut taught Uighur culture and tradition, told her to pack for an urgent conference in Beijing. But Pulat grew worried after she hadn’t heard back from her mother a few days later, fearing she had been in a plane crash. 

Over a video call, her father and grandmother only vaguely remarked that Pulat should be patient, as it was inconvenient for Dawut to return her phone call at the moment. Chinese authorities monitor communication in and out of the region, so they had to be careful. From reading their facial expressions, Pulat felt reassured that nothing too serious had happened. 

But Pulat soon learned the truth: The government had taken her mother in a large-scale crackdown on the Uighur minority in Xinjiang.

Read more at World Magazine.

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