News / Asia

US ‘Concerned’ Over Indictment of Uighur Academic

FILE - Ilham Tohti, an outspoken scholar of China's Turkic Uighur ethnic minority, speaks during an interview at his home in Beijing, China.
FILE - Ilham Tohti, an outspoken scholar of China's Turkic Uighur ethnic minority, speaks during an interview at his home in Beijing, China.
Victor Beattie

The United States has called on China to release Uighur rights activist and economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was charged Wednesday with separatism two days after clashes in Xinjiang that caused dozens of casualties.  The head of a U.S./based Uighur group said the Muslim Uighur community is rising up against China’s recently-announced crackdown.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf Wednesday expressed concern about Ilham Tohti’s indictment, as well as his detention and that of six students since January:

"We have been deeply concerned about the lack of transparency concerning his welfare and access to legal representation.  We call on Chinese authorities to release Mr. Tohti and his students and to guarantee them the protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China’s international human rights commitments, including freedom of expression," said Harf.

Charged with separatism

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said the former lecturer at Beijing’s Central Nationalities University, detained January 15 and transferred to Xinjiang, was charged Wednesday with separatism for reportedly having close ties to the World Uighur Congress, which it said advocates the independence of Xinjiang.  Police also say Tohti has connections with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which has been designated a terrorist group.

According to state media, Tohti has described Muslim Uighur protesters as heroes and instigated students to hate China and its government.  He is said to have been arrested several times for spreading rumors.

Michael Clarke, senior research fellow at Australia’s Griffith Asia Institute, said while he expected Tohti to be indicted, he is surprised his trial will be heard in the Intermediate People’s Court in Urumqi.

"In most cases, particularly high-profile cases like this, a conviction is pretty much a guarantee here and the problem with that is the charge of separatism, or inciting separatism, can technically carry the death penalty under Chinese law," explained Clarke. "Whether or not that will be the case in this circumstance, obviously, is unclear at the present."

Denied food, mistreated

Clarke said Tohti has never engaged in any activity that might be defined as separatism or inciting separatism. "In fact, in his position as a professor of economics in Beijing, he was quite a moderate spokesman for Uighur autonomy and a reasonably moderate critic of the government’s approach to Xinjiang more broadly.  The government, however, has charged him with a variety of things, and they’ve also accused him of using his position as a professor, and I’m quoting the official story here, to make rumors, distort and hype up stories to create conflicts, spread separatist thinking, incite ethnic hatred, advocate Xinjiang independence and conduct separatist activities," he said.

Alim Seytoff, president of the Uighur American Association, said the timing of the indictment may be a way that Chinese authorities can deflect attention away from the latest violence in the restive western autonomous region that borders Central Asia.  Seytoff said Tohti has been detained incommunicado (unable to communicate) for six months.

"And, he was even chained by the Chinese prison authorities and he was denied food for 10 days.  So, he was abused and mistreated by the Chinese authorities," Seytoff stated.

Seytoff said Tohti had operated a website aimed at reconciling the Uighur and Chinese peoples and sought to change China’s policy of, what Seytoff calls, heavy-handed repression in Xinjiang.

On a visit to Xinjiang in April, President Xi Jinping called for "decisive actions" to "resolutely repress the terrorists’ rampant momentum."

Tuesday, China reported that dozens of civilians had been killed or wounded in what it calls a terrorist attack Monday in Xinjiang’s Kashgar Prefecture.  It said a gang armed with knives attacked a police station and government offices, as well as civilians, and smashed vehicles.  It said police responded by shooting dozens of members of the mob.  It said its initial investigation concluded it was a premeditated terror attack.

Chinese crackdown

Seytoff said the police action is part of China’s year-long anti-terror campaign initiated by President Xi.

"The Chinese government restricted the fasting during the holy [Muslim] month of Ramadan, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.  Instead, the Chinese security forces went house-to-house searching Uighurs who were fasting, harassing them at night, locking up Uighurs who prayed, and even killed a family of Uighurs," he said. "As a result of this mass grievance and anger toward Chinese security forces, especially extra-judicial use of force, they took to the streets to protest against brutality."

Seytoff said this is a reflection of what he called Uighur "collective discontent" and said both peaceful and violent actions are happening throughout the Uighur community.  He acknowledged he is fearful of another crackdown similar to what occurred in July, 2009, when some 200 people were killed in the regional capital, Urumqi.

In May, at least 31 people were killed when two cars crashed through an Urumqi market and explosives were thrown.  In March, a mass stabbing at a Kunming train station blamed on Muslim extremists wielding knives killed 29 people.  In all, nearly 200 people have been killed in ongoing violence tied to the Uighur community in China this year. 

You May Like

Video Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid