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Aburehim Heyit

Abdurehim Heyit

Sentenced to 8 years of prison for “separatism”

Born in 1964 in the town of Kashgar, Heyit became a prominent figure in the Uyghur folk culture. He was a virtuoso performer on the Uyghur Dutar and composer of numerous songs. He studied in Kashgar Arts College  and worked in the prestigious Central Nationalities Ensemble in Beijing from 1986 to 1993. He returned in Urumqi to join the Xinjiang Song-and-Dance Troupe, and performed songs promoting unity among the peoples of China. 

According to Freemuse and RFA, in April 2017, Heyit was detained in Urumqi in April 2017. Chinese authorities detained the musician in connection with a Uyghur-language song he had performed, taking one phrase from the song “brand him a religious extremist” despite government’s prior approval of the lyrics.

Heyit performed in state-sponsored music and dance groups. Freemuse and RFA reported that authorities may have detained Heyit in a “reeducation camp”. 

On 9 February 2019 it was reported that Heyit had passed away in Chinese custody, in a statement released by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Chinese government subsequently rejected this conclusion, releasing an unverified video purportedly of Mr. Heyit, where he states that he is “[I]n good health and [has] never been abused.” He goes on to say, “I’m in the process of being investigated for allegedly violating the national laws,” but provides no further details in the short clip. It was later reported that he had been released and was under home arrest, but his whereabouts remain unknown. 


Freemuse, “Uyghur Dutar King” Detained in China, 1 November 2017, available at:

RFA, Prominent Uyghur Musician Arrested Amid Ideological Purge in Xinjiang, 12 November 2017, available at:

BBC, Abdurehim Heyit Chinese Video ‘Disproves Uighur Musician’s Death’, 11 February 2019, available at :

South Morning China, China Releases Video of ‘Dead Uyghur Poet Abdurehim Heyit, but Fails to Silence Critics, 11 February 2019,

DW, China Releases Video of Uighur Musician to ‘Disprove his Death’, 11 February 2019, available at :

[Last updated: November 2019]