Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) urges President Obama to call for release of Ilham Tohti during Xi Jinping visit to Washington, DC

China should immediately and unconditionally release imprisoned Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti

For immediate release
September 21, 2015 10:00am EST
Contact: Uyghur American +1 (202) 478 1920

UHRP asks the United States administration and President Obama to raise the case of Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti with Chinese officials and Xi Jinping during the September 24-25 visit of the Chinese president to Washington, DC. Ilham Tohti is a political prisoner unjustly jailed for his peaceful advocacy of Uyghur rights issues. In the opinion of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Ilham Tohti’s deprivation of liberty is deemed as arbitrary. In bringing Ilham Tohti’s case to the attention of the Chinese delegation, President Obama and U.S. officials should renew their concerns and requests for his unconditional release.

“When the Chinese president meets with President Obama in Washington, it will have been just over one year since the Chinese government jailed Ilham Tohti for life. As Xi Jinping opens a dialogue on issues of concern between China and the United States, he has denied Ilham Tohti, and many other Uyghurs, the right to discuss the problems that exist between Uyghurs and the Chinese state,” said UHRP director, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC.

Mr Seytoff added: “The United States administration should call on Xi and Chinese officials to release Ilham Tohti and make him a partner in resolving the dire condition of political, economic and cultural rights among Uyghurs. The incarceration of Uyghur intellectuals committed to peaceful reform of ethnic policies and increasing militarization of East Turkestan will not bring stability to the region.”

Professor Ilham 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. A November 21, 2014 appeal hearing was held behind closed doors at the Urumchi Number 1 Detention Center. The appeal was turned down.

Ilham 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 founded the Uighurbiz website in order to “promote mutual understanding as well as dialogue among ethnic communities,” as he explained in an autobiographical essay in 2011.

After his January 15, 2014 detention in Beijing, Chinese state media and Chinese officials 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 former Xinjiang chairman Nur Bekri as stating the evidence against Ilham Tohti was “irrefutable.”

The conditions of Ilham Tohti’s pre-trial detention did not meet international standards, as reports emerged that he had been denied food and medical assistance. These allegations place China in violation of articles 20 and 22 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Furthermore, procedural issues ahead of his trial denied Ilham Tohti a fair hearing. His lawyers’ requests to see prosecution evidence ahead of the trial were rejected. 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.

Since his December 2014 conviction, Chinese authorities have seized his family’s assets and maintained heavy handed surveillance of the family home in Beijing.

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. The universal right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under the articles of the UDHR.

UHRP also calls on China to release seven of Ilham Tohti’s students who 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 Uighurbiz website.