HLS Advocates for Human Rights Urge Biden to Demand Uyghur Entrepreneur Ekpar Asat’s Release


Harvard Law School Advocates for Human Rights, a student group at HLS, sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden Monday urging him to demand that the Chinese government release tech entrepreneur Ekpar Asat — the brother of Rayhan Asat, the Law School’s first Uyghur graduate.

The letter was sent in advance of Biden’s meeting Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. House Republicans on the Select Committee on China had previously called on Biden to demand Asat’s release during the summit.

Asat traveled to America in February 2016 to participate in the International Visitors Leadership Program, hosted by the U.S. State Department. Three weeks after concluding the program and returning to China, in April 2016, Asat was detained by the Chinese government and placed in an internment camp in Xinjiang. In 2020, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination.”

The charges, according to January 2021 tweets from the State Department, were a “sham” and were adjudicated with “no trial, no lawyer, no evidence, no due process.”


“We call upon you to demand Mr. Asat’s immediate release, condemn the use of forced labor, torture, and arbitrary detention in the Xinjiang Region, and commit to the protection and freedom of the Uyghur people,” HLS Advocates for Human Rights wrote to Biden.

The State Department referred requests for comment to the White House. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

In January 2021, more than 70 Harvard student organizations signed a statement — also written by HLS Advocates for Human Rights — demanding Asat’s “immediate release.” Later that year, in April 2021, HLS hosted a virtual event marking five years since his detention.

Rayhan Asat, Ekpar Asat’s sister, said HLS Advocates for Human Rights’ statement helped make sure that her brother’s “plight is not forgotten” and that “the plight of Uyghurs” mattered to students at Harvard.

HLS Advocates for Human Rights co-president Hina Uddin, a third-year law student, said that Ekpar Asat’s ongoing detention “is a case of abandonment” on behalf of the United States.

“This is a case of the United States inviting someone to participate in a U.S.-sponsored program and that person then being forcibly disappeared upon his return to China,” Uddin said. “We, as HLS Advocates, don’t think that anyone should be punished for engaging with the United States or learning about U.S. diplomacy or participating in diplomacy.”

“I think that is one of the really egregious things about this case and why it’s really imperative that the United States government take up this issue again and again with China,” she added.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at Follow him on X @neilhshah15 or on Threads @kne.els.