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

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe 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.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs