Charge: Separatism
Sentence: Life imprisonment
Location: Urumchi Public Security Bureau Detention Center (last known)


Ilham Tohti was a noted Uyghur academic and economics professor at the Minzu University in Beijing. Professor Ilham also ran the Uighurbiz website, a forum in Mandarin Chinese to discuss economic, social and cultural issues facing the Uyghur people in China.

Professor Tohti has been subjected to frequent harassment by the Chinese authorities; however, on January 15, 2014 he was arrested and was handed a life sentence on September 23, 2014 after a trial that fell far below international standards.  The White House, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry and the European Union condemned the sentencing.

According to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, authorities arrested Uyghur students affiliated with Ilham Tohti and/or his website, including: Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Tursun, Abdukeyum Ablimit, Mutellip Imin, Atikem Rozi, Abdumejid Jelil, Meryemgul, Perhat Ablet, Atilamu and Dilshat. Three of the detained Uyghurs have been formally charged (Perhat and Shohret for splittism and Abdukeyum for revealing state secrets).

On September 26, the New York Times reported Perhat and a further two students (Shohret Nijat and Luo Wei, an ethnic Yi) testified against Professor Tohti on China Central Television. The report added: “Confessions given under duress, including after torture by the police, are common in China.” Since their arrest, the whereabouts and condition of Mutellip Imin and Atikem Rozi is unknown.

In this filmed interview with family friend and Tibetan activist, Woeser, Ilham Tohti explains the pressures he and his family have faced due to his work.

In 2014 the PEN America Center awarded Ilham Tohti with its PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. A video produced for the occasion explains the work of Ilham Tohti.


Uyghurs have been noticeably marginalized from the regional economy. Chinese government investment in the region has been rapid and extensive, especially since the adoption of Western Development policies in 2000.

The Chinese state has highlighted the region as a provider of natural resources to high-energy consumption areas of eastern China. The Chinese government has also prioritized pipeline construction from Central Asia through East Turkestan to eastern China as another source of energy.

The benefits to the Uyghur population have been minimal in terms of poverty relief and reduction in unemployment. Discrimination in the job market is open with signs clearly stating Uyghurs need not apply for many positions.

Read more about the economic discrimination Uyghurs experience in the Uyghur Human Rights Project’s report: Uyghur Homeland, Chinese Frontier: The Xinjiang Work Forum and Centrally Led Development

Get involved:

Sign UHRP's petition to release all 8 prisoners in this campaign

Use the #freeilham hashtag on Twitter

Join the Freedom for Ilham Tohti Facebook page

Sign a petition calling for Ilham Tohti’s immediate release

Read/listen/watch on:

Video of Ilham Tohti discussing religious restrictions during Ramadan (Financial Times, July 12, 2013)

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen (Ilham Tohti, April 6, 2014)

Condition of Ilham Tohti’s detention a human rights violation (Uyghur Human Rights Project, June 27, 2014)

UN Working Group says China's deprivation of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti's liberty arbitrary (Uyghur Human Rights Project, July 16, 2014)

Ilham Tohti page on China Change—includes statements from governments and NGOs

Why the Uighurs Feel Left Out of China's Boom (Time, July 14, 2009)

In China's Xinjiang, poverty, exclusion are greater threat than Islam (Reuters, November 3, 2013)


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