Condition of Ilham Tohti’s detention a human rights violation

Ilham Tohti and his wife in a photo sent to RFA's Uyghur Service via WeChat on Jan 13, 2014, two days before his detention.

China must allow proper medical treatment, drop all charges and release Ilham Tohti.

For immediate Release
June 27, 2014, 1:40 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is extremely concerned about reports detailing the circumstances of Uyghur academic, Ilham Tohti while in detention. UHRP considers the conditions of his imprisonment a violation of international human rights standards.

The Chinese authorities in East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) should allow Mr. Tohti access to proper medical treatment and end its persecution of the Uyghur economist with his immediate release.

UHRP asks the international community and concerned governments to call on the Chinese government to account for its handling of Ilham Tohti’s case.

“The Chinese government’s treatment of Ilham Tohti is scandalous. By any standard, deprivation of food and water as some kind of retribution for a crime he did not commit is cruel. Since Mr. Tohti’s detention, the silence surrounding his case has been concerning. The rights community feared he was being subjected to intolerable conditions; unfortunately, we were proved right,” said UHRP director, Alim Seytoff in a statement.

“Quite simply, Ilham Tohti has done nothing wrong. This state sanctioned brutality is happening to him all because he wanted to have a rational and open discussion about the documented discrimination and marginalization of the Uyghur people in China.”

Reports in the overseas media described how Professor Tohti spoke to his lawyers about the conditions of his incarceration during a meeting held at a detention facility in Urumchi on June 26, 2014. The meeting was the first between Ilham Tohti and his lawyers, Li Fangping and Wang Yu since his detention in Beijing in January 2014. Mr. Tohti’s lawyers said he maintained his innocence and dismissed “separatism” charges leveled against him.

During the time he was able to speak to his lawyers, Mr. Tohti said he had been deprived of food and provided with one and a half glasses of water during a ten-day period in March. The treatment was administered as retribution for a violent attack on Kunming train station allegedly carried out by Uyghurs on March 1. As a result of the food deprivation, he lost 16 kilograms [35 pounds] in weight. His lawyers also learned that Mr. Tohti’s leg had been shackled for more than 20 days at one point during his detention.

According to a June 26 Radio Free Asia article, “Tohti had staged a 10-day hunger strike in protest against food served to him that didn't follow Islamic dietary laws” at the beginning of his confinement.

A June 27 Chinese Human Rights Defenders briefing described how “Tohti has heart disease, prostatitis (infection of the prostate), and pharyngitis (an inflammation of the pharynx).” The briefing also explained that despite complaining of a pain in his liver, no tests have been carried out to diagnose the reason. The lawyers discovered that although their client “is receiving some medication, [the] treatment is insufficient.”

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners sets out guidelines for states on incarcerated individuals that include:

Article 20

(1) Every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served.

(2) Drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it.

Article 22

(2) Sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals. Where hospital facilities are provided in an institution, their equipment, furnishings and pharmaceutical supplies shall be proper for the medical care and treatment of sick prisoners, and there shall be a staff of suitable trained officers.

Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:

All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

UHRP is concerned that if Ilham Tohti is handed a heavy sentence, the outlook for moderate Uyghur dissenting voices is particularly grim. The Chinese state’s violation of Mr. Tohti’s right to freedom of expression and the unjustifiable denial of his liberty will not only limit the options of legitimate opposition among Uyghurs, but also all critics of the government in China.

UHRP warns Chinese officials that persistent violation of human rights standards, especially in the context of a fierce crackdown on Uyghurs, will not ease the violence and tensions in the region. Offering Uyghurs, including Ilham Tohti, a genuine and meaningful stake in the future of their families, communities and region is a positive measure to end the ongoing strife in East Turkestan.