HONG KONG—The wife of a minority Muslim Uyghur writer, jailed by a Chinese court in 1999 for "stealing state secrets," says authorities have never officially told her of her husband's fate or whereabouts in more than seven years.
Tohti Tunyaz, who wrote under the pen-name Tohti Muzart, was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court on March 10, 1999, for "stealing state secrets" and engaging in "splittist activities" after he made a trip home from Japan to complete his doctoral thesis, his wife said.
But Rebiye Tohti, who still lives in Japan, told RFA she has never been notified of his arrest, conviction, or sentencing.
"I was so frustrated," she said. "I have some knowledge of Chinese law. The law clearly indicates that when someone is arrested, the authorities should inform their family and relatives within 24 hours. But the authorities secretly arrested my husband, and for a couple of months they informed nobody."
The officials told me to my face: 'We just didn't want to tell you'. I said to them: 'There is the law, and I will sue you,' and they replied: ‘You can go anywhere you want to sue us.' Since then, nobody will talk to me.
She said she herself had finally followed the trail to the Urumqi National Security Bureau, which dismissed her complaint.
"The officials told me to my face: 'We just didn't want to tell you.' I said to them: 'There is the law, and I will sue you,' and they replied: ‘You can go anywhere you want to sue us.' Since then, nobody will talk to me. I have been through several courts, but to no avail."
She said she hasn't been allowed to visit her husband in eight years and still hasn't been officially notified of his whereabouts.
"I have been seeking help since then. It has been eight years now, that I haven't seen him," she said.
Rebiye Tohti said she had even succeeded in attracting the notice of China’s Supreme People’s Court in Beijing, where her husband’s appeal had already failed several years earlier.
"His professors and I went through so many places, but they couldn't help. His Japanese lawyer even got the Beijing Supreme Court to send a letter ordering the local authorities to reopen his case, but the local authorities never did."
Tohti Tunyaz is currently serving an 11- year prison sentence in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region No. 3 Prison because of his research into Uyghur history.
Research into Uyghur history and culture remains highly sensitive as Beijing attempts to consolidate the restive region, where Chinese rule is highly unpopular.
Detained on Feb. 11, 1998 during a visit to Xinjiang to research his thesis, he was charged with "inciting separatism" and "illegally acquiring state secrets."
After his sentence was handed down in Urumqi, he appealed to a higher court, where he was sentenced in October 2000 to five years imprisonment for "illegally procuring state secrets" plus seven years for inciting “splittism."
His sentence was consolidated to 11 years, with two years’ subsequent deprivation of political rights.
During his trial, the court referred to documents he had obtained while in Xinjiang and to a book advocating "ethnic separatism" called The Inside Story of the Silk Road , which he was accused of publishing in Japan.
His professor in Japan, Sato Tsugitaka, has said the so-called "state secrets" comprised a list of 50-year-old documents provided by an official librarian.
Tsugitaka also said Tohti Tunyaz hadn't published any books advocating ethnic separatism, according to the rights group Amnesty International.
A January 2001 article published in China’s national security newsletter alleged that Tohti Tunyaz had "turned his back on his homeland" by pursuing his doctorate in Japan, where he "came under the influence of Western liberal thinking" and "engaged in Xinjiang minority splittist activities."
Uyghur activists have for decades sought autonomy in what is now Xinjiang, which China formally annexed in 1955.
Chinese authorities have accused them of terrorism and blamed them for more than 260 terrorist acts in Xinjiang over the last 20 years in which 160 people have died and 440 have been injured.
But human rights groups say China has used its support for the U.S.-led war on terror to justify a wider crackdown on Uyghurs characterized by arbitrary arrests, closed trials, and the use of the death penalty.
Original reporting by RFA’s Uyghur service. Director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.