Uyghur Scholar's Classes Canceled

Many students wanting to attend classes are puzzled by the cancellation.
2011-09-21
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ilham-tohti-305.jpg
Ilham Tohti in France, February 2009.
Photo: RFA

A university in the Chinese capital has canceled a class taught by prominent Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti on immigration, discrimination, and development in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, where many Muslim Uyghurs chafe under Beijing's rule.

Tohti, who has been under close scrutiny from the authorities since ethnic riots rocked the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region's capital Urumqi in July last year, said he was notified of the cancellation on Sept. 15, nearly a week after his first class.

An employee who answered the phone at the Beijing Minorities University confirmed the decision to cancel the course, which had been titled "Research into the sustainability of population, resources, and environment in Xinjiang."

"University rules stipulate that courses with fewer than 25 students will be canceled," the employee said, adding that Tohti's course only had 21 students enrolled in it.

Tohti told RFA that 59 students had registered for the class as of Aug. 15 based on a report on the university's website which was deleted soon after its was posted.
 
Many students who wanted to register for the class were informed by the university that the class had been canceled, he said.
 
"Actually I could see from the computer system that 59 people had enrolled successfully in the course, but when teaching began [on Sept. 9], that number had dropped to 22" he said on Tuesday.

He said the university had changed the minimum student number for his class to 25.

"Many students came to my home to inquire about the class and wanted to register," he said.

Tohti said in spite of the low registered numbers, more than 40 students had actually shown up to audit his lectures, saying they were surprised to find the course had been canceled.

Pre-planned

He saw the move as pre-planned, and said that he has no plans to appeal or complain.
 
"I don't think there's anything to be done about this," he said. "They have been controlling this from the start, including not allowing students to sign up for the course."

"I think they probably planned this from the beginning, so complaining won't make any difference," he said.

During the last semester, he said policemen in plainclothes came to his class and told him he "talked too much."

Tohti, an outspoken economist whose Uyghur Online website has been closed repeatedly since the 2009 ethnic violence in Urumqi, has been subjected to an overseas travel ban, as well as repeated questioning by state security police.

He said his e-mail account had been hacked two months ago, adding that his friends had complained about receiving "virus-contaminated" e-mails from him.

Tohti said he wanted to highlight economic, immigration, development, and ethnic discrimination issues in his course.

Uyghurs say that recent economic development has unfairly benefited China's majority Han who migrated to the region over the past decades. 

They also complain about oppressive religious controls and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.

Chinese authorities blame Uyghur separatists for a series of deadly attacks in recent years and accuse one group in particular of maintaining links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Reported by Mihray Abdilim for RFA's Uyghur service and Hai Nan for Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.