China jails Uygur scholar for life for alleged separatism

Prominent Uygur scholar Ilham Tohti.
Prominent Uygur scholar Ilham Tohti.

(, Sep24, 2014) – Following a globally condemned two-day trial, China on Sep 23 sentenced prominent Uygur scholar Ilham Tohti to life in jail for alleged separatism. The Intermediate People’s Court of Urumqi gave the verdict, also depriving Tohti of his political rights for life and confiscating his personal property, reported China’s official Xinhua news agency Sep 23.

The 44-year-old former economics professor at Beijing’s Minzu University of China is considered a moderate and China’s heavy sentence on him is seen as being designed to send a message – expressing intolerance for any kind of criticism of Chinese rule and demanding absolute loyalty to the communist ruled China.

In order to justify the heavy sentence, the court upheld a multitude of serious, but considered false or greatly exaggerated, charges against Tohti, who has become a symbol of peaceful resistance against China’s repressive policies in his homeland. It alleged that he “spread lessons containing separatist thoughts via the website, Uygur Online;” that he “bewitched and coerced young ethnic students to work for the website and built a criminal syndicate;” and that he “organized this group to write, edit, translate and reprint articles seeking Xinjiang’s separation from China.”

The court has further ruled that the articles “attacked China’s ethnic, religious, economic and family planning policies, and incited ethnic hatred by distorting the causes of a number of riots and disputes that occurred in Xinjiang and Beijing.” It has also convicted him for having encouraged through online instigation fellow Uygurs to use violence. And it has added that he also colluded with foreign groups and individuals in hyping incidents related to Xinjiang with the aim of making domestic issues international.

Mr Tohti yelled out in protest upon hearing the verdict, reported Sep 23, citing his lawyers. The report said the heaviness of the sentence shocked even those of Mr Tohti’s supporters who were braced for the very worst.

“It shows their determination to send a message,” Tohti’s lawyer Li Fangping was quoted as saying.

sentenced prominent Uygur scholar Ilham Tohti to life in jail for alleged separatism.
sentenced prominent Uygur scholar Ilham Tohti to life in jail for alleged separatism.


The report cited Tohti’s supporters as arguing that his prosecution was an opportunistic move by the government to silence a consistent thorn in their side, while deterring other moderate critics from speaking out amid a broader crackdown on intellectuals and rights activists across the country.

The United States and the European Union have repeatedly called for the release of Tohti, who was detained in January. Tohti had staged a hunger strike early on in his detention to protest being deprived of halal food. He was later placed in leg irons and denied delivery of warm clothing sent to the detention center by his family, reported Sep 23, citing his lawyers.

“Tohti has consistently, courageously and unambiguously advocated peacefully for greater understanding and dialogue,” Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying. “If this is Beijing’s definition of ‘separatist’ activities, it’s hard to see tensions in Xinjiang and between the communities decreasing.”

“They don’t want to admit that it’s their own mistakes in implementing ethnic policy that have led the current instability,” the report quoted writer and minority-rights activist Wang Lixiong as saying in Beijing. “They’re always on the lookout for scapegoats.”


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