Ilham Tohti

Charge: Separatism
Sentence: Life imprisonment
Location: Xinjiang No. 1 Prison


Ilham Tohti was a noted Uyghur academic and economics professor at the Central Nationalities (Minzu) University in Beijing. Professor Tohti 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 had 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 HouseU.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry and the European Union condemned the sentencing.

A November 21, 2014 appeal hearing was held behind closed doors at the Urumchi Number 1 Detention Center in violation of normal procedure, according to Professor Tohti’s lawyers. The appeal was turned down.

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 (UDHR) in Mr. Tohti’s case—in particular, articles 9, 10, 11, 18, 19, 20 and 21.

Seven of Ilham Tohti’s students were given prison sentences of up to eight years in December 2014. Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Nijat, Mutellip Imin, Abduqeyyum Ablimit, Atikem Rozi, Akbar Imin and Luo Yuwei (an ethnic Yi) worked as volunteers on Professor Tohti’s website, Uighurbiz

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.

Issue (economic discrimination):

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.

The Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, part of China’s “One Belt, One Road,” proposed in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, is a large-scale development project to strengthen ties between China and Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe.  Massive development in the region will have the potential to destroy Uyghur communities and deteriorate Uyghur culture. There is also potential for greater discrimination of Uyghurs, as there is no mention of protecting Uyghurs from economic inequity under the terms of the initiative. Read the Financial Times’ three part series on the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative: Part 1; Part 2 and Part 3.

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
Buy a Press Uncuffed bracelet with Ilham Tohti’s name

Read/listen/watch on:

Marie Holzman: ‘The European Parliament Should Award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti’ (China Change: October 19, 2015)
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)
Ilham Tohti: Present Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang (China Change: May 19, 2015)
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)
China's Prescription for Troubled Xinjiang: The New Silk Road (The Diplomat: November 19, 2014)   


CLICK HERE for the next prisoner page: Atikem Rozi