Uyghur American Association condemns harsh sentencing of Ilham Tohti

International community should call for Ilham Tohti’s immediate release

For immediate release
September 23, 2014, 10:00am EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) condemns in the strongest terms the life sentencing of Uyghur economist, Ilham Tohti and considers the verdict and punishment handed down to Mr. Tohti a clear indicator of China’s derision for international standards of justice. UAA asks all concerned governments to strongly protest Mr. Tohti’s treatment and to pressure China for his immediate release.

UAA believes the sentencing is intended to silence peaceful Uyghur dissenters to Chinese state repression and confirms the government’s disregard for meaningful Uyghur participation in solving regional tensions.

“By heavily sentencing Professor Tohti, China has proven that it has no interest in peace in East Turkestan,” said UAA president, Alim Seytoff in a statement. “China has shown to the whole world that it will show no mercy to any Uyghur who dares to challenge its repressive rule.”

“The international community can now unambiguously see how China treats Uyghurs when they peacefully demand their most basic human rights and plainly understand that the root causes of political tension in East Turkestan have been created by the Chinese government. Professor Tohti must be immediately and unconditionally released by Beijing in order to reduce the rising tension in East Turkestan.”

Professor Tohti was found guilty on charges of ‘separatism’ and sentenced to life imprisonment on September 23, 2014 after a two-day trial, which Human Rights Watch called a “travesty of justice.” The September 17-18 trial of Ilham Tohti and China’s handling of Mr. Tohti’s case has also been criticized by the U.S. State Department, the European Union, Amnesty International and the PEN America Center among others.

Mr. Tohti, who worked as a professor at Beijing’s Minzu University (formerly Central Nationalities University), has often questioned the efficacy of Chinese government policies targeting Uyghurs citing worsening economic, social and cultural conditions. He is also known for operating the Uighurbiz website, shutdown since his detention, which offers information on Uyghur social issues in Mandarin Chinese and has been hosted overseas after unrest in Urumchi in 2009.

Since his January 15, 2014 detention in Beijing, Chinese state media and Chinese officials have heavily prejudiced Ilham Tohti’s case.

Only three days after his detention, an op-ed in the Chinese state run Global Times accused Tohti of links to the “West,” delivering “aggressive lectures and being the “brains” behind alleged Uyghur terrorists.

A March 6, 2014 article by AFP cited Xinjiang regional chairman, Nur Bekri as stating the evidence against Ilham Tohti was “irrefutable.” Bekri added that Chinese authorities “will safeguard his legal rights while he is under investigation.”

On June 27, 2014, UHRP reported 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.

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. His lawyers also learned that although their client was receiving some medication for a number of physical conditions he suffers, the treatment was insufficient. These allegations place China in violation of articles 20 and 22 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

A Guardian report dated September 16, 2014, citing Professor Tohti’s lawyer, described how the Uyghur academic was being kept in shackles while in detention and had been denied warm clothing sent by his family despite colder temperatures in Urumchi, where Chinese authorities are holding him.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) detailed in an August 13, 2014 article how Ilham Tohti’s lawyer, Li Fanping had been denied evidence ahead of the trial. Mr. Li told RFA reporters that he had been unable to secure copies of videotaped lectures delivered by Professor Tohti that the state planned to use as evidence to prove the charges of ‘separatism.’ Furthermore, pages were missing from electronic files handed over to Mr. Li.

At the sixty-ninth session of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention 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 Working Group cited China’s violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Mr. Tohti’s case—in particular, articles 9, 10, 11, 18, 19, 20 and 21.