Trial of Ilham Tohti on separatism charges politicized and shows Chinese state intolerance for peaceful Uyghur dissent

China should immediately release Uyghur academic, Ilham Tohti

For immediate release
September 16, 2014, 12:15pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur American Assocation (UAA) believes the September 17 trial of Uyghur economist, Ilham Tohti on charges of separatism will be neither free nor fair. UAA is concerned that the conditions of Mr. Tohti’s pre-trial detention fall far below international standards and demonstrate a disregard for justice to satisfy Beijing’s political aims.

Given a pattern of state harassment targeting Mr. Tohti for his questioning of government policies, UAA also believes the trial is intended to put an end to his advocacy efforts and those of other peaceful Uyghur dissenters to repression. The trial of Ilham Tohti sends a strong message that the government will not tolerate any form of Uyghur opposition and displays the extent of Uyghur exclusion from meaningful participation in determining regional policies.

“By severely punishing prominent Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, Beijing is sending the wrong message to the Uyghur people that China will not change its heavy-handed repressive policies in East Turkestan and will not listen to Uyghurs’ legitimate grievances, even from a peaceful and concerned Uyghur scholar,” said UAA president, Alim Seytoff in a statement. “By mistreating and punishing Professor Tohti, China is going to burn the bridge of peaceful reconciliation between the indigenous Uyghur people and Chinese settlers and further increase the political tension in East Turkestan.”

Mr. Seytoff added: “Professor Tohti is a peaceful and rational person that Chinese leaders should engage and listen to. Ilham Tohti is exactly the kind of Uyghur Chinese officials should look to in order to find peaceful and lasting solutions for the future of East Turkestan, not someone that should be locked up and given a heavy sentence.”

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.

On July 30, 2014, Chinese state media reported that the Urumchi Procuratorate formally charged Ilham Tohti with separatism. 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.