A noted Uyghur scholar and critic of Beijing’s policies in the restive Xinjiang region was jailed for life on charges of separatism on Tuesday, triggering immediate protests from rights groups across the world.
A court in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), handed out the sentence after a quick two-day trial, jailing Ilham Tohti for life, depriving him of all political rights and confiscating his property, state media reported.
Charges against Tohti, who was teaching at Beijing’s Minzu University till he was detained in January, include spreading “separatist thoughts via the website (he set up) Uyghur Online.
He bewitched and coerced young ethnic students to work for the website and built a criminal syndicate,” the ruling said, according to the official news agency, Xinhua. The court further ruled that Tohti organised this group to “write, edit, translate and reprint articles seeking Xinjiang's separation from China.”
“The articles attack China's ethnic, religious, economic and family planning policies, and incited ethnic hatred by distorting the causes of a number of riots and disputes that occurred in Xinjiang and Beijing,” the ruling said.
Quoting the ruling, Xinhua said, Tohti encouraged violence against the state. “He also colluded with foreign groups and individuals in hyping incidents related to Xinjiang with the aim of making domestic issues international.”
Rights watchdog, Amnesty International, called the ruling, an “affront” to justice.
“This shameful judgement has no basis in reality. Ilham Tohti worked to peacefully build bridges between ethnic communities and for that he has been punished through politically motivated charges,” William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International’s Hong Kong office, said, adding: “Tohti is a prisoner of conscience and the Chinese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release him.”
“These criminal charges make a mockery of President Xi’s calls for a greater understanding and solidarity between the Uyghur and Han communities. Instead of targeting peaceful activists like Tohti the Chinese authorities must end the systemic discrimination and suppression Uyghurs face,” Nee added.
The group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in a statement that Tohti’s detention was rife with abuses.
“Ilham Tohti’s nine-month detention and his trial, held on September 17-18, have been rife with abuses of his human rights and due process rights, in violation of the Chinese law and international standards,” the statement said.
“While detained on trumped-up charges, Ilham Tohti has been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and was denied legal counsel for six months,” the CHRD said.