Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang are getting ready to put on trial a number of students of jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, his wife said on Monday.
The former professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing was handed a life sentence, along with deprivation of political rights and confiscation of all his assets, following his conviction of a charge of "separatism" by a court in Xinjiang on Sept. 23.
Both Tohti, 44, and his lawyers had expressed concern that seven of his students may already have been tried and sentenced in secret on similar charges.
But Tohti's wife Guzelnur told RFA she had gotten a phone call from the mother of one of the students, a graduate student named only as Parhat.
"I got a call from a parent of one of the students on Nov. 12," Guzelnur said. "They said their son's trial would be held soon, probably in [Xinjiang's regional capital] Urumqi."
"They are all being held in Urumqi," she said.
Guzelnur added: "The mother of the graduate student, Parhat, called me and said they have already hired a lawyer and now they are waiting for the trial."
Tohti's transfer from Beijing—his place of household registration—to stand trial in Urumqi was hotly contested by his defense team at the trial.
China has launched a year-long crackdown on "terrorism" in Xinjiang following a string of violent incidents in recent years.
But rights activists say Tohti didn't receive a fair trial and should never have stood trial in the first place for the peaceful expression of his views, which were widely seen as moderate criticisms of Beijing's repressive policies targeting Uyghurs.
Appeal of verdict, sentence
Tohti's defense lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said he is in the process of appealing the initial verdict and life sentence.
"I have handed in nine pages of additional material [for the appeal]," Liu told RFA after visiting Tohti's detention center, where his students are also believed to be held, on Monday.
"[Tohti] is aware that the appeal won't be held in court; I have already told him about that," Liu said. "He still wants the appeal to be held in court, so I told him ... to write to the court expressing this view."
"He wrote an application, calling for the appeal to be held in court and for further investigations into the facts of the case," Liu said, adding that Tohti's case should qualify for an appeal hearing in court.
He said he had recently held meetings with three court officials over the appeal.
"I hope they will change this decision, because I told them this is a major, important case," Liu said.
"What's more, a lot of the facts of the case haven't been made clear. There are holes in the evidence, especially around the question of witness reliability," he said.
Meanwhile, Guzelnur said the family remains extremely concerned about Tohti's health, as they have been prevented from taking him a set of clothes suitable to Xinjiang's winters.
She said she had recently written to her husband telling him news about the couple's two young sons.
Urumqi's temperature was listed as -1C (31F) on Monday, according to the Travel China Guide website.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.