Denial of Ilham Tohti’s appeal against separatism charges a travesty of justice

International community must express concern about outcome of Ilham Tohti appeal and pending trials of students

For immediate release
November 21, 2014 2:10pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) condemns the decision of the Urumchi High People’s Court to reject Ilham Tohti’s appeal against charges of separatism.

UAA believes the decision is politically motivated and did not meet international standards of due process.

Furthermore, UAA is concerned about the pending trials of Ilham Tohti’s students given the absence of a free and fair hearing in Professor Tohti’s case and the atmosphere of retribution surrounding present security measures in East Turkestan.

UAA asks the international community to step up condemnation of China’s persecution of Ilham Tohti and his family and to publicly express its concern over the fate of Ilham Tohti’s students awaiting trial.

“Even with the disapproval of the international community over Ilham Tohti’s case still ringing in its ears, the Chinese authorities proceeded to deliver an appeal verdict that is clearly a travesty of justice and motivated by political considerations,” said UAA president, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC. “The calls for Ilham Tohti’s immediate and unconditional release need to be made bluntly to Chinese officials. Otherwise, the fate of not only Ilham Tohti and his students is perilous, but also any other Uyghur who exercises the fundamental right to freedom of speech.”

Mr. Seytoff added: “We must not allow Beijing’s conflation of peaceful and legitimate dissent with baseless allegations of ‘separatism’ or ‘terrorism’ to trample the human rights of the Uyghur people in East Turkestan. It is important for all of us who can to tell China its contempt for international standards is unacceptable and weakens the prospects for stability.”

In a report dated November 20, 2014 (EST), the Associated Press reported that the Xinjiang High Court upheld the conviction of Ilham Tohti on charges of separatism. Professor Tohti was found guilty on charges of separatism and sentenced to life imprisonment on September 23, 2014 after a two-day trial that began on September 17. Since his conviction, Chinese authorities have seized his family‘s assets and maintained heavy handed surveillance of the family home in Beijing.

The 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. Neither Ilham Tohti’s friends nor family were permitted to attend.

Procedural issues, including deprivation of food and medical assistance, characterized Ilham Tohti’s pre-trial detention and original trial. His lawyers were denied prosecution evidence ahead of the initial hearing. In a briefing dated November 17, 2014, the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) outlined further procedural violations as described by Ilham Tohti’s lawyers.

Mr. Tohti, who worked as a professor at Beijing’s Minzu University (formerly Central Nationalities University), 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 offered information on Uyghur social issues in Mandarin Chinese and had 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 from 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.”

In March 4, 2014, CECC identified ten of Ilham Tohti’s students and Uighurbz website volunteers (Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Tursun, Abdukeyum Ablimit, Mutellip Imin, Atikem Rozi, Abdumejid Jelil, Meryemgul, Perhat Ablet, Atilamu and Dilshat) detained since January 2014.

According to a Radio Free Asia article dated February 26, 2014, three of the students had been formally arrested, including Perhat Halmurat for splittism, Shohret Tursun for splittism and Abdukeyum Ablimit for revealing state secrets.

On September 26, 2014, the New York Times reported three of Ilham Tohti’s students appeared on Chinese state broadcaster, CCTV to testify against Ilham Tohti. Of the three, Perhat Halmurat had been previously identified; however, Shohret Nijat and Luo Wei (an ethnic Yi) had not been documented.

Citing an interview with Ilham Tohti’s wife, Guzelnur, Radio Free Asia reported on November 17, 2014, the imminent trial in Urumchi of at least one student identified only as “Parhat” in the article.

UAA is especially concerned about the cases of Mutellip Imin (detained on January 15, 2013) and Atikem Rozi (detained on January 17, 2014) whose whereabouts and legal status remain unknown. On December 9, 2013, Mutellip Imin posted an article on his personal blog detailing his 79-day enforced disappearance after Chinese police detained him at Beijing Airport in July 2013. In December 2012, Atikem Rozi used her Sina Weibo microblog account to highlight her two-year struggle to obtain a Chinese passport. Atikem was told the rejections of her passport applications had been on “political grounds.”

Since Xi Jinping’s call for a one-year “anti-terror” campaign in East Turkestan on May 23, 2014 Chinese authorities have overseen a series of arrests, mass trials, death sentences, and executions that have accelerated deteriorating conditions. Given the speed and atmosphere of retribution in the region, UAA is concerned the pending trials of Ilham Tohti’s students and website volunteers will be neither free nor fair.

Please consider signing a UHRP sponsored petition calling for the immediate release of Professor Ilham Tohti and seven other political prisoners.