A prominent Uyghur scholar says that he faced harassment both from police in Beijing where he lives and in his hometown in northwestern China during a sensitive meeting of top level officials from the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Outspoken Uyghur economics professor Ilham Tohti said he had received a notice from authorities in the capital ahead of the 18th National Congress, where China enacted a once-in-a-decade leadership change, informing him that he would have to leave the city for its duration.
The founder of the website Uyghur Online said that police took him to Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and Atush, his hometown in the region, to ensure that he didn’t “stir up trouble” during the congress, which was held during the second week of November.
Uyghur Online, a moderate, intellectual website addressing social issues, was shut down by authorities in 2009. A new version of the site, which reports Xinjiang news and discusses Uyghur social issues, reopened earlier this year. It is hosted overseas and blocked by censors in China.
“In October this year, two police took me to Urumqi and Atush. But when I arrived in Urumqi, the police told me I could not stay there,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service in an interview.
“When I arrived at my hometown, the police said I was not allowed to bring anything into the city.”
Ilham Tohti said that while he was in Atush, he was made to stay in his home under police surveillance and that anyone who wished to see him was made to first meet with the authorities for questioning.
“None of my family members—not even my mother, brothers and sisters—wanted me to stay in Atush,” he said.
“This made me feel very sad. I didn’t want to bring trouble to the family, so finally I decided to leave and go back to Beijing [after the congress had concluded].”
Ilham Tohti said that he has faced a number of restrictions in Beijing since July 2009 when deadly ethnic violence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese rocked Urumqi, leaving some 200 people dead, according to the Chinese government’s tally.
Most recently, he said, his six-year-old son had been refused entry to primary school in Beijing this year.
“The school has not given me any explanation [for refusing him],” Ilham Tohti said.
“This has made me feel very disappointed,” he said, adding that he is afraid that speaking out about Uyghur social issues in Xinjiang is now 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 Uyghur Online that authorities had sent armed forces to mosques in Xinjiang to monitor Muslims during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Last year in September, the Beijing Minorities University cancelled a class taught by the Uyghur professor on immigration, discrimination, and development in Xinjiang, where many Muslim Uyghurs chafe under Beijing's rule.
Ilham Tohti has called for implementation of regional autonomy laws and was detained for two months following July 2009 ethnic violence in Xinjiang.
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. Translated by Mihray Abdilim. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.