Uyghur Scholar Tohti Speaks About His Concerns Before Detention

2014-02-07
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Ilham Tohti pauses before a classroom lecture in Beijing, June 12, 2010.
AFP

Outspoken Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti gave a lengthy statement by phone to RFA’s Uyghur Service reporter Mihray Abdilim before he was detained by Chinese authorities on Jan. 15 from his Beijing home. He had requested that the statement be made public if he were taken into custody, not heard from afterward, and accused of various charges by the authorities without any right of reply. When he made the statement on July 24, 2013, he was also concerned that he would be tortured and forced to make a confession or even face the prospect of death while in custody. Tohti, who is a professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing and runs the Uyghur Online website, has spoken out for greater autonomy for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China’s far northwest. Below is an abridged version of his statement:   

There is a lot of tension around here. In the past few days, I have been under constant surveillance by police vehicles and national security police officers. I have been under heavy supervision.

Furthermore, anyone I have interacted with recently, regardless of ethnicity, Uyghur or Han Chinese, has had to suffer through interrogations by the government. I have realized that I don’t have too many good days ahead of me and I have a feeling that they [the Chinese government] may not have the best intentions in dealing with my situation. Therefore, I feel that it is necessary for me to leave a few words behind before I no longer have the ability to do so.

Medical examination

Firstly, I would like to emphasize that currently, there are no physical marks or bruises on my body. About two months ago, the school [Central University for Nationalities] performed physical examinations on all the teachers, including myself. The results of my physical examinations have been recorded on their computers and were sent to all major hospitals in Beijing. They should be available in their archives. I am currently very healthy and do not have any illnesses.

The last time I fell ill was after I was beaten by a few national security officers at the airport on February 2, 2013.

The police officers punched my heart at the time, and after the incident I had chest pains whenever I felt tired. However, I no longer feel the chest pains and I am in perfectly healthy condition.

If I do pass away in the near future, know that it is not because of natural illness and it certainly will not be suicide. I am a Uyghur, a father, and a righteous man. I do not commend suicide and neither does the Uyghur culture. Therefore it is impossible that I will ever commit suicide. This is my first point.

Lawyer

Secondly, I do not want an appointed lawyer and I will never accept an appointed lawyer under any circumstances. I have my own lawyer who [the Tibetan writer Tsering] Woeser knows. Other people are aware of this as well.

False confession

Thirdly, I will never say anything that is against my morals and principles, nor will I ever say anything that may harm my people [Uyghurs]. If I say anything that deviates from my morals after my arrest, know that those are not my words. Any word that is at conflict with my morals or brings harm to the Uyghur people would most likely have been fabricated by the Chinese government.

The only possibility of myself uttering such words would be due to drugs or other substances intended to coerce a false confession. Regardless of the interrogation strategy or the torture method, regardless of what body parts I am about to lose, know that I will never speak words that will work against the interest of Uyghurs, nor will I ever betray the Uyghurs. The only way I may utter such words is under abnormal circumstances. When I say abnormal, I am referring to an abnormal state of mind, perhaps influenced by drugs.

Peaceful path

My fourth point is that I have never associated myself with a terrorist organization or a foreign-based group. The path I have pursued all along is an honorable and a peaceful path. I have relied only on pen and paper to diplomatically request the human rights, legal rights, and autonomous regional rights for the Uyghurs.

I have relentlessly appealed for equality for Uyghurs in regards to their individuality, religion, and culture. I have persistently demanded justice from the Chinese government. However, I have never pursued a violent route and I have never joined a group that utilized violence.

I have never started an organization, but I have attracted a number of friends and supporters, both Uyghur and Han Chinese, who share my vision. It would be absolutely unreasonable of the PRC (People's Republic of China) government to use this fact against me. The only things I have ever wanted and requested are human rights, legal rights, autonomous regional rights, and equality. Uyghurs should be able to receive the same respect given to the Chinese and they should also have the ability to preserve their dignity. This is my fourth point.

I will never view myself as a criminal, and I feel that it is necessary for me to make these points.

Security

Many of my friends have been arrested lately. The number of police officers around me has been gradually increased. They have been watching me even on school campus. I have never been surrounded by this many police officers, even around the July 5th incident in 2009.

Since July of this year [2013], I have not been able to communicate as much with journalists and reporters abroad. Since the website (Uyghurbiz.net) attracts a lot of visitors and activities, the Chinese government is not pleased with it either. I am almost certain that their intentions are corrupt this time, but I would like to say that mine are not. I have always led by example through advocating for diplomatic and peaceful ways to request justice and equality. I believe that Beijing is the ideal place for education, and I believe that this city is a key to achieving equality and justice.

Without the understanding and support of all of the 1.3 billion people in China, it would be extremely difficult for us to achieve our human rights goals. One of my foremost objectives so far has been to introduce and explain who we really are to the Han Chinese population, and this is how I have gained so many friends and supporters who are Han Chinese.

I have never spoken like this before, but I am almost confident that the Chinese government is trying to get rid of me this time.

Xinjiang government

I remember that three years ago I had refused to comment about my opinions on Zhang Chunxian [the ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region]. However, I have expressed my thoughts and opinions about him recently through my writings, lectures, and letters I have written. I am certain that Zhang Chunxian wasn’t very happy about what I had to say. I have recently received “communications,” and I must say that I don’t feel very safe at the moment. Please save this conversation from today and be sure to keep it until you need to release it, when it is necessary.