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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' 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.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs