An outspoken ethnic Uyghur scholar said he and his daughter have been detained by Chinese authorities as they were about to leave Beijing airport for the United States.
“My daughter and I are kept in two separate rooms," Ilham Tohti, a professor at the Central Minorities University in Beijing, told RFA's Uyghur Service by mobile telephone at 10:17 a.m. Beijing time on Feb. 2 (9:17 p.m. Washington time, Feb. 1) before the device was believed to have been taken away by the authorities.
When asked whether RFA could report his detention, he said, "Yes." The connection then dropped.
RFA then tried calling his mobile phone repeatedly but kept getting a recording, "Unable to connect."
Ilham Tohti had been detained several times before and he and his family faced a number of restrictions in Beijing since July 2009 when deadly ethnic violence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese rocked China's northwestern Xinjiang region's capital Urumqi, leaving about 200 people dead.
The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is the homeland of China's Uyghur minority who complain of discrimination by the country's majority ethnic Han Chinese group.
Ilham Tohti, who has constantly and fearlessly voiced the grievances of the Uyghurs, earlier on Saturday told his friend via text messages that he and his teenage daughter were detained "as they were going through security checks" at the airport.
The friend, speaking on condition of anonymity to RFA, said that Ilham Tohti informed him that two policemen were watching him at the airport, providing the identification badge numbers of them.
A few minutes later, RFA received a text message from Ilham Tohti saying that "now there are four policemen watching me." He provided the identification badge numbers of the two additional policemen.
When his friend asked him how he could help, the scholar said, "Report it to the outside world."
Ilham Tohti was the founder of Uyghur Online, a moderate, intellectual website addressing social issues. It was shut down by authorities in 2009.
A new version of the site, which reports Xinjiang news and discusses Uyghur social issues, reopened last year and is hosted overseas and blocked by censors in China.
He was taken away from Beijing to Urumqi and Atush, his hometown in the Xinjiang region, in October last year ahead of the 18th National Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese capital.
His six-year-old son had also been refused entry to primary school in Beijing last year.
Ilham Tohti told RFA in December that he was afraid that speaking out about Uyghur social issues in Xinjiang was negatively affecting his family’s life in Beijing in addition to his own.
In August, Chinese authorities interrogated Ilham Tohti, warning him not to speak to the foreign media or discuss religion online, after he alleged on his website that the authorities had sent armed forces to mosques in Xinjiang to monitor Muslims during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
In September 2011, the Beijing Minorities University cancelled a class taught by him on immigration, discrimination, and development in Xinjiang, where many Muslim Uyghurs chafe under Beijing's rule.
Ilham Tohti, who has called for implementation of regional autonomy laws in his home region, was also detained for two months following the July 2009 ethnic violence.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, 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. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai and Jennifer Chou.