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Chinese Court Sentences Uighur Scholar to Life
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Ilham Tohti

Summary: China incurs worldwide criticism for sentencing Ilham Tohti to life in prison for voicing his views on China’s Turkic Uighur ethnic minority.

China has doled out its most extreme sentence in a decade for illegal political speech. This Tuesday, after a two-day trial, they convicted Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti of separatism, and sentenced him to life in prison.

  
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Tohti, an outspoken scholar for China’s Turkic Uighur ethnic minority, was considered a moderate voice of reconciliation between the Han Chinese establishment and the Muslim Uighur ethnic group. Nevertheless, tensions have been escalating between the government and the Uighurs.

Last May, Uigur militants killed 43 people when they charged two vehicles through a market street in the capital of Urumqi, throwing explosives.

Chinese authorities have since prohibited locals from having beards or wearing veils.

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Tohti kept calm during the trial, despite that the government had kept him barred from his family since his arrest in January, but he did shout out during sentencing, “I don’t agree!”

“Of course, this life sentence is too much,” said his lawyer, Li Fangping, according to the Associated Press. “But he has said that no matter what the result, this should not lead to hatred. He has always said he wants to create a dialogue with the Han Chinese.”



Human rights advocates world wide are outraged by the Chinese government’s treatment of Ilham Tohti.

“It’ll send a strong signal to [Uighur scholars] there’s not much to be gained to take some risks and personal initiative to bridge the gap between what obviously people on the ground are feeling, severe discontent with the way things are going, and explaining them to Han policymakers,” said William Nee, a researcher with the human rights group Amnesty International.

Robert Barnett, Columbia University Tibet specialist, called the sentence “deeply shocking.”

The court claimed Ilham Tohti had “bewitched and coerced” students to work for his website, which was called Uighur Online, claiming he had “built a criminal syndicate,” as the Chinese government’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.

“Tohti organized this group to write, edit, translate and reprint articles seeking Xinjiang’s separation from China,” claimed Xinhua, referencing the location where many Uighur people live. “Through online instigation, Tohti encouraged his fellow Uygers to use violence.”

Despite the intense charges, much the rest of the world disagrees there is merit to them. The European Union called the sentence “completely unjustified,” and said he should be immediately released.

“The EU deplores that the due process of law was not respected, in particular with regard to the right to a proper defense,” they said in a statement.

Not only was Tohti barred from family or lawyers for eight months, but the sentence will leave his wife, Guzulnur, without support to taking care of their two young children, Li told the Associated Press.



 

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