Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have moved a step closer to trying detained Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti for "separatism," with a pretrial hearing scheduled for next month, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
"They told me a pretrial hearing will take place on Sept. 7," Liu Xiaoyuan, a member of Tohti's defense team, told RFA.
"Originally it was scheduled for Sept. 5, but there was a clash with another case that [fellow defense lawyer] Li Fangping is working on, so it's been moved to the morning of Sept. 7," he said.
He said Tohti, who was detained in January, would likely attend the hearing in person, but that the hearing and the trial itself were likely to be behind closed doors.
"The charges relate to harming national security ... so of course the trial won't be open to the public," Liu said.
But he added: "I don't believe that this does involve state secrets, just that these charges come under the heading of harming national security."
Liu said Tohti's defense team haven't yet been allowed access to video footage being used as evidence for the prosecution.
"They told me they have it, and that they'll let us view it if we go over there," he said.
The video is believed to be of Tohti's classes at the Nationalities University in Beijing, Liu added.
"The evidence is supposed to demonstrate that he spoke in favor of separatism in his classes and lectures," Liu said.
"Of course this is very important evidence, because it's objective," he said.
Liu said he expects a trial to follow soon after the hearing.
"The trial should take place not long after the pretrial hearing," he said.
Back in Beijing, Tohti's wife Guzulnur told RFA that the video of her husband's classes is between five and six hours in length.
"It's footage of him talking in class, him and his students as well," she said.
Tohti, who has spoken out for greater autonomy for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), was dragged away from his home in Beijing by dozens of police on Jan. 15.
He was formally arrested on Feb. 20 by the Xinjiang capital Urumqi municipal police department on separatism charges.
His family has been banned from visiting him in the Xinjiang Regional Detention Center ahead of the trial.
RFA has confirmed that the authorities also formally arrested three of Tohti's students on charges of "splittism" and "revealing state secrets."
Authorities informed the families of Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Tursun and Abdukeyum Ablimit—who have been in custody for more than a month—by telephone on Feb. 24 of the charges against the trio and confirmed that they were also being held in Urumqi.
However, Guzulnur said seven of Tohti's students were initially detained at the same time.
"There were seven of his students at the university, but we have had no news of any of them," she told RFA.
"I have been in touch with their parents by phone, but they haven't been allowed to visit [the students]."
"They are allowed to send them money and clothing, but there has been no news other than that," Guzulnur said.
The charges against Tohti are based on his personal views, as expressed in online articles, as well as comments made in lectures which allegedly support the charges of "separatism," his lawyers said.
Tohti has flatly rejected the charge of separatism, saying his views might be problematic for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, but that they don't constitute a crime.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.