News / Asia

Uighur Scholar Ilham Tohti Indicted for Separatism

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.
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.

Lawyers and family members of prominent Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti are strongly rejecting his indictment for separatism by a court in Xinjiang on Wednesday. Tohti is accused of inciting violence in the ethnically diverse region in western China, where the government is leading a campaign against terrorism. But supporters say he is a moderate man persecuted for his activism.

Wednesday’s indictment came more than six months after Ilham Tohti was detained in Beijing, and taken to Urumqi, where he will now face trial.

It came through a brief statement posted on the microblog account of the Urumqi People's Prosecutor.

Tohti's lawyer Li Fangping said the government failed to notify him the case was being transferred to the court, and he also does not have access to the official indictment.

“After he [Tohti] was detained the police wrote up a document," he said. "We are not clear whether the prosecution will use that document in its indictment. But Ilham Tohti and all of us lawyers believe that that the contents of that document does not constitute evidence of separatism.”

The document Li refers to is a police report that accuses the academic of using his website - Uighur online - to promote violence, separatism and hatred between Han and Uighur people.

The case has spurred criticism from the international community.  

US concerns

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said she was concerned about the lack of transparency concerning Tohti's 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,” she said.

For years the academic had been speaking out against what he said were failing government policies in Xinjiang.

The region is home to a majority of Chinese Uighurs - a Turkish speaking ethnic group. Most Uighurs are Muslim and are culturally very different from Han Chinese.

“At a time when the Chinese government is facing escalating tensions, that really should tell the government to reevaluate the policy in Xinjiang," said Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch based in Hong Kong. "Instead of listening to what Uighurs have to say about why this might be happening and try to look at the root causes, the government is slapping a heavy charge on a moderate advocate of Uighurs."

Over the past year, hundreds of people have been killed in attacks Beijing has blamed on terrorists who want the region to be independent."

Violence escalates

But activists say Uighurs are driven towards extreme acts because of government discrimination, and the repression of religious practices and other freedoms.

In May, China launched a year-long campaign against terrorism in Xinjiang.

Since then, hundreds of people have been detained and police forces have increased security in areas already heavily policed.

But that has not stopped the violence.

In the most recent incident, Chinese media this week said police shot dead dozens of attackers near Kashgar.

The assailants had targeted government offices with knives and axes, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

The government has not released a precise death toll, nor added details on who the assailants were.

In his writings, Tohti has often talked about the danger that government repression in Xinjiang could lead to extreme acts, but he has also always rejected any involvement with terrorism.

In a statement he gave to Radio Free Asia before his detainment, he said he never associated with a terrorist organization.

“The path I have pursued all along is an honorable and a peaceful path,” he said and added he had relied only on pen and paper to diplomatically request the human rights, legal rights, and autonomous regional rights for the Uighurs.

It is unclear when the trial will be held. Tohti's lawyer, Li Fangping says he will travel to Xinjiang next week and he will request to meet with Tohti.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs