Ilham Tohti, a scholar and advocate for China’s minority Uighur population, has been sentenced to life in prison for “advocating separatism” despite his avowedly moderate views. From the Economist:
Though he has always advocated nonviolence and says he opposes separatism, Mr Tohti appears to be paying a price for a series of episodes of violent unrest involving Uighurs. These include acts of terrorism both in Xinjiang and in other parts of China that, although crude in nature, are said by the government to be part of an increasingly organised separatist movement with links to jihadists outside China. In May, after a deadly attack on a market in Urumqi using explosives, authorities in Xinjiang declared a “people’s war” on terrorism.
The Intermediate People’s Court of Urumqi ruled that Mr Tohti had “bewitched and coerced young ethnic students” into writing separatist tracts for Uighur Online, a website he founded in 2006, according to Xinhua, an official news service. Xinhua said the court had found that Mr Tohti had “encouraged his fellow Uighurs to use violence”.
“By no stretch of the imagination—even the authoritarian imagination—could this be considered a fair trial,” an Indiana University professor and friend of Ilham’s told the Washington Post. Ilham’s personal property will be confiscated; he is married and has 8- and 5-year-old sons.
The New York Review of Books’ Ian Johnson posted interviews with four Chinese human rights figures about Ilham’s situation yesterday. “He absolutely doesn’t want China to split,” dissident Hu Jia told Johnson. “He wants to live in a system that respects the rights of ethnic minorities, in a free and equal space. He believes in peace.”