Police in the Chinese capital on Wednesday detained outspoken ethnic minority Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti and his elderly mother after a raid on his home, according to his wife and a website he runs.
Police took Tohti, a vocal critic of Beijing's policies in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, and his mother away from the family home in Beijing between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, the Uyghur Online website said.
Police officers from Beijing and from the Xinjiang regional police department locked Tohti's wife and the couple's two children in the bathroom during the arrest and seized all the family's communications devices, the report said.
In a message sent to a reporter with RFA's Uyghur service on Wednesday, Tohti sent what appeared to be a distress message via the mobile text and voice messaging communication service WeChat.
"The situation is very severe; I am in a bad situation," he wrote.
There were no further messages.
Tohti's wife began describing the scenario to RFA's Cantonese Service on Wednesday, but the phone call was suddenly cut off.
"I was on my way to work when I suddenly got a message telling me to hurry back home," she said.
"When I got back home, there were more than 20 police from Urumqi and Beijing there, and they took my husband and his mother away," she said.
"They also searched the computers in our home, our cell phones, and various documents," she said, before the line went dead.
However, Tohti's wife also contacted Uyghur Online via a cell phone hidden in the family home, the website reported.
"We are now under close surveillance by police from Beijing and from Xinjiang," the report quoted her as saying, in a call that was interrupted by a voice speaking Uyghur, which she said was the voice of a police officer from Xinjiang.
In an interview with RFA's Uyghur Service on Monday, Tohti reported increased surveillance by police.
"All of my phone calls are being tapped," he said. "Even my WeChat is being monitored."
He said many of his Chinese friends had already been detained. "I assume that they will be coming for me next," he said, two days before his detention.
Ethnic minority students at the Central Minorities University, where Tohti teaches economics, were called into the school Wednesday following his detention, although the purpose of the meeting wasn't immediately clear, according to Uyghur Online.
An employee who answered the phone at the university on Wednesday declined to comment, however.
"I don't know about this because I'm only the duty officer," the employee said.
Calls to some of Tohti's Uyghur students resulted in a "switched off" message on Wednesday, Uyghur Online said.
Speaking out on human rights struggle
On Tuesday, Tohti began uploading his views on the current situation in Xinjiang to WeChat, accusing Beijing of "violating the culture and customs of an ethnic minority group" with its highly restrictive religious policies and raids on families deemed to be religious.
"This has led to racial and ethnic strife, because a lot of the methods used to do this are cruel," he said.
"We are all victims!" he wrote.
He said that in spite of China's position as the second-largest economy in the world, the gulf between mostly Muslim Uyghurs and the majority Han Chinese who have poured into the Xinjiang region in recent decades is wider than it was 30 years ago.
"China's rapid economic growth has covered up this discord; there is a gap between rich and poor, unbalanced development and unreasonable vested interests," Tohti wrote.
"Uyghurs are being turned into outsiders in their own backyard."
He said any human rights struggle must begin from the point of view of human beings.
"A country that regards respect for a particular ethnic group as a form of charity isn't a normal country," he said. "Neither should it bother calling itself an ethnically diverse country."
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination and oppressive religious controls under Beijing’s policies.
Xinjiang, which came under Chinese control following two short-lived East Turkestan Republics in the 1930s and 1940s, has seen a string of violent incidents in recent years as Beijing tightens security measures and extends house-to-house raids targeting Uyghur families.
China blamed Uyghur separatists for an Oct. 28 attack in Beijing, when a vehicle plowed through bystanders on Tiananmen Square and burst into flames, killing three people in the car and two bystanders.
Many Uyghurs refer to Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the former Soviet Central Asian republics, as East Turkestan.
Reported by Mihray Adilim for RFA's Uyghur Service, by Bi Zimo for the Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.