News / Asia

Chinese Lawyer Denied Meeting with Jailed Uighur Client

FILE - Outspoken Uighur scholar and advocate Ilham Tohti speaks during an interview at his home in Beijing.
FILE - Outspoken Uighur scholar and advocate Ilham Tohti speaks during an interview at his home in Beijing.
A lawyer for jailed Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti says he has been denied access to his client in China's western Xinjiang province.
 
Speaking to VOA from the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi Thursday, Li Fangping said he was told he could not meet with Ilham because the charges of separatism involve state secrets.
 
“[Ilham] once released a four-point statement, one of which said he would not have any separatist words and actions. Now the charge against him is separatism," said Li, who called the charges groundless. "We think there is lack of evidence, and it is not persuasive at all.”
 
Chinese authorities charged Tohti, a university professor, with separatism this week, nearly six weeks after he was taken from his Beijing apartment without explanation.
 
Although he has regularly spoken out against what he considers China's mistreatment of the mainly Muslim Uighurs in the far western region of Xinjiang, there appear to be no public record of him calling for independence in Xinjiang.
 
Tohti now faces anywhere from 10 years to life in prison or even the death penalty, depending on how serious his alleged offense is deemed by China's Communist Party-controlled courts.
 
China says it is fighting what it calls Uighur terrorists affiliated with the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement and trained in neighboring Pakistan.
 
Many Western human rights groups say China is exaggerating the threat in order to justify its repression of Muslim religious life and discrimination that has resulted from a large influx of majority Han Chinese to Xinjiang.
 
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.

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