Uyghur Web Site Shut Down

“My main agenda is to promote understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese,” an Uyghur professor says after authorities shut down his Web site.
2008-06-12
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Uighuronline
Uyghur Online home page, before its closure.
Uyghur Online
HONG KONG—Chinese authorities have closed a Web site aimed at promoting understanding between Han Chinese and ethnic Uyghurs following allegations that the site was linked to foreign “extremists,” the site’s owner said.

But in a surprising twist, Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economics professor at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, said it was fellow Uyghurs who told authorities his two-year-old Chinese-language Web site, Uyghur Online, had links to Uyghur “extremists” abroad.

“The Public Security Bureau (PSB) shut us down and investigated. They cleared us, but they didn’t say anything about reopening the site,” he said.

“They told us, ‘Don’t worry. Don’t be concerned. Under current laws and conditions we can’t accept some discussion topics—these are sensitive but not illegal.’ But they didn’t say when the site could reopen.”

No comment was available from the Beijing PSB, and why ethnic Uyghurs would complain about the Uyghur Online Web site was unclear.

"Many of our readers, viewers, are Han Chinese intellectuals. They want to understand other nationalities—they are trying."
Ilham Tohti
Tohti said his site—which employs 67 people of 12 nationalities, although they are not paid—sometimes scores 1 million page views daily.

Content is published in Chinese and written by Uyghur, Han, Korean, Tibetan, and other contributors.

Promote understanding

“My main agenda is to promote understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese,” he said, adding that he believed it has been somewhat successful. “Uyghurs are a peaceful people, and we have to tell this to the Han Chinese because they don’t understand Uyghurs.”

“Many of our readers, viewers, are Han Chinese intellectuals. They want to understand other nationalities—they are trying. They aren’t a large number but they are increasing.”

“Han Chinese make up more than 90 percent of the population, so it is important that they understand Uyghurs. I don’t have any political agenda,” Tohti said, adding that his site was shut down briefly in 2007.

The site “has been very helpful...many things have helped people to understand each other but not all people support my Web site. Some people accuse me of lying, of spreading lies...Some people even say, if you were in Xinjiang you would be hanged many times. Some even wrote a letter to my university telling them to fire me. Some Han Chinese also have attacked me and called me a ‘splittist.’”

“Splittist” is the term Chinese authorities use to denote those allegedly aiming for independence from Beijing’s rule, and it is often applied to Tibetans.

“Other people support my agenda and write very good things. Intellectuals, government employees, they wrote good things. The intellectual level of my viewers is rising,” Tohti said. “Uyghurs cannot solve their problems through terrorism, or through slogans. They have to know how to defend their interests legally.”

Misleading statements?

Some exiled Uyghurs have misled people, he said.

“Our Uyghur intellectuals are not leading people toward a correct path. Some of them said  that Chinese laws are not for Uyghurs, but it’s not correct. Under Chinese law, ethnicity doesn’t matter—all people are treated equally.”

“But various social problems are a different issue. Some social problems cannot be solved through the law. Uyghur people need to learn the law, live by the law, and find legal tools to defend their interests,” he said.

Multilingual professor


According to his official biography, Tohti was born in Atush, Xinjiang, on Oct. 25, 1969. He graduated from the Northeast Normal University and the Economics School at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing. He has studied in Korea, Japan,  and Pakistan, and visited many other countries.

Proficient in English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Urdu, he is currently associate professor of the Economics School at the Central Nationalities University. He is also chairman and general manager of Uyghur Online Web Technology Development Co. Ltd., and a guest professor at the University of Kazakhstan.

Restive minorities

Both Tibetans and Uyghurs—two of China’s major religious and ethnic minorities—have chafed under Beijing’s heavy-handed rule for the last six decades, and Chinese authorities have faced persistent accusations of repression and abuse.

China has waged a campaign over the last decade against what it says are violent separatists and Islamic extremists who aim to establish an independent state in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which shares a border with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Beijing took the position that Uyghur groups were connected with al-Qaeda and that one group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), was a “major component of the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden.” The ETIM has denied that charge.

Reported and translated by Jelil Musa for RFA’s Uyghur service. Service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.