Uyghur Scholar Faces Heart Problems After Grilling

2013-02-26
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Ilham Tohti pauses before a classroom lecture in Beijing, June 12, 2010.
AFP

Chinese police are intensively questioning a prominent Uyghur scholar and have refused to allow him to see a doctor despite his complaints of heart problems triggered by the continuous nature of the interrogations.

Ilham Tohti, a professor at the Central Minorities University in Beijing, said he had been persistently interrogated in recent days by the police and held under a 24-hour watch at home since he was barred on Feb. 2 at the Beijing airport from leaving to the United States to take up a position at Indiana University.

“Last Friday, officers of the Public Security Bureau questioned me for more than six hours, leaving me exhausted and sweating and having problems with my heart,” Ilham Tohti told RFA’s Uyghur Service by telephone on Monday.

Tohti had been questioned from 3:00-9:00 p.m., leaving him tired and weak, he said in a microblog message sent out to friends and supporters at midnight on Feb. 22.

Police questioned him again on Monday, but noticed he was having physical difficulties, Tohti said.

“They said that I could take a break from questioning to see a doctor on Tuesday,” he said.

But police came to take him away for questioning again on Tuesday, one of Tohti’s students told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Because they are questioning him again, he cannot see a doctor,” the student said.

Tohti, who has been detained several times before, is a vocal critic of the Chinese government’s treatment of the minority Uyghurs, most of whom live in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

Visiting scholar

Tohti was questioned by police at the Beijing airport for eight hours before he was taken back to his home in Beijing on Feb. 2  as he was about to fly to the U.S. to take up a post on a U.S.-issued J-1 visa as a visiting scholar at Indiana University.

His teenage daughter, who was to have accompanied him, was allowed to take the American Airlines flight to the U.S. and is now safe in Indiana.

A group of global scholars and human rights organizations had criticized the Chinese authorities for imposing the travel ban on Ilham Tohti, saying the case epitomized intimidation of intellectuals generally in China and suppression of ethnic rights.

Scholars at Risk (SAR), a New York-based international network of over 300 universities and colleges in 34 countries, sent a letter to President Hu Jintao asking him to investigate the case and urging the appropriate authorities to explain publicly the circumstances surrounding the travel restriction on the professor.

In August last year, Chinese authorities interrogated the professor, warning him not to speak to foreign media or discuss religion online after he alleged that Chinese security forces had been sent to mosques in Xinjiang to monitor Muslims during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

A year earlier, the Central Minorities University canceled a class taught by Tohti on immigration, discrimination, and development in Xinjiang, where many Muslim Uyghurs say they suffer ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness under Chinese rule.

Reported and translated by Mihray Abdilim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.