UN Working Group says China's deprivation of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti's liberty arbitrary

For immediate Release
July 16, 2014, 3:30 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

Working Group calls on China to immediately release Ilham Tohti and grant compensation

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) commends the opinion of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) on the case of Uyghur academic, Ilham Tohti. The full text of the statement is online here.

At the sixty-ninth session of the Working Group held between April 22 and May 1, 2014, a panel of five human rights experts rendered the opinion that Ilham Tohti’s deprivation of liberty since January 15, 2014 is arbitrary. The decision was only recently made public.

In light of the opinion, the Working Group called for the immediate release of Mr. Tohti and to “grant him compensation for the harm he has suffered during the period of his arbitrary detention.”

Furthermore, the WGAD stated: “Mr. Tohti has been deprived of his liberty for peacefully exercising his fundamental rights…, namely: the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to take part in the government of his country.”

“The opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding Ilham Tohti’s case highlights China’s contempt for international human rights standards. Just because an individual speaks out against government policies does not make him or her a criminal. Freedom of expression is a universal right that China is obliged to uphold,” said UHRP director, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC.

“The Working Group is very clear that Mr. Tohti’s immediate release is the only next step that should be taken in his case. A United Nations body has now joined the call from human rights groups, the U.S. State Department and the European Union to China to send Mr. Tohti back to his family and end this reprehensible persecution of a peaceful dissenter,” Mr. Seytoff added.

The Working Group adopted its decision on Ilham Tohti’s detention on April 22, 2014 and cited China’s violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the case—in particular, articles 9, 10, 11, 18, 19, 20 and 21. Furthermore, the Working Group encouraged China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Before rendering its opinion, the Working Group received a response on Mr. Tohti’s case from China, which included an accusation that the Uyghur academic had in collusion with “core members of the East Turkestan Independence Movement plotted, organized and dispatched individuals to participate in separatist activities outside of China.”

The Working Group decided that China’s “response does not provide clarification or explanations in relation to such allegations…Instead, it relies on vague offenses without articulating specific facts warranting the detention of Mr. Tohti.”

Although some allegations made against Mr. Tohti in China’s response, such as using “his teaching position to provoke students to hate the State and its government, and to overthrow the government,” have been previously made public, the claims surrounding his involvement with the East Turkestan Independence Movement are new.

UHRP believes that given the Working Group’s opinion any evidence provided on this accusation during Mr. Tohti’s trial should be made available to international and independent experts in order to verify the claims.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has also made judgments on cases of other Uyghurs, including Webmaster, Gulmire Imin and Uyghur Christian, Alimjan Yimit. In both of these cases, the WGAD rendered opinions deeming their deprivation of liberty as arbitrary. 

A PDF containing the full statement from the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is available here: http://docs.uyghuramerican.org/Letter-to-the-Source-Opinion-No.-03-2014-China.pdf