Detained Beijing-Based Uyghur Scholar Taken to Xinjiang?

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Ilham Tohti and his wife in a photo sent to RFA's Uyghur Service via WeChat on Jan 13, 2014, two days before his detention.
Ilham Tohti and his wife in a photo sent to RFA's Uyghur Service via WeChat on Jan 13, 2014, two days before his detention.

Outspoken ethnic minority Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was detained at his Beijing home nearly two weeks ago, may have been taken to Xinjiang, according to his wife.

But his lawyer who traveled to the restive western region of China to inquire from police about his whereabouts returned to the capital without any clues, she said, 

"I think my husband may be in Urumqi now," the wife, Guzelnur, told RFA's Uyghur Service referring to Xinjiang's capital. "But neither the Beijing police nor Urumqi police are giving me any information about him."

Chinese authorities detained the Central University for Nationalities professor on Jan. 15 but have refused to say where he is being held, accusing him of leading a separatist group that advocates violence to overthrow Chinese rule in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) charges which Guzelnur totally refuted.

Tohti's Being-based lawyer Li Fangping traveled at the weekend to Urumqi where he believed Tohti is being held but was given the cold shoulder by police, she said.

"He was made to wait for eight hours outside the police bureau, and then they said they cannot give him any information," Guzelnur said. "One officer told him his boss is busy and there may be some news after the Lunar New Year [this weekend].

Li, who returned to the capital on Sunday night, has not been allowed to see Tohti or register to defend him since he decided to defend the scholar.

"It is impossible to communicate with the officials, and they are refusing to answer phone calls. It has been exhausting," he told Reuters news agency.

Not formally charged yet

Tohti has not been formally charged, but Chinese authorities on Saturday said that Tohti was being investigated for promoting Xinjiang's independence and abetting separatists.

The Bureau of Public Security for Urumqi said in an online statement that Tohti recruited followers through a website he founded to cause trouble, spread separatist thoughts, incite ethnic hatred, and engage in separatist activities.

It alleged that the scholar told students that Uyghurs should use violence and oppose the government as China opposed Japanese invaders during World War II.

Guzelnur, who said policemen were still on guard outside her house, dismissed the charges as absurd, saying she was “very angry” with the accusations.

"I have no idea, he is only a university lecturer…. All the courses he taught were arranged by the university. How could he say those things [as the Bureau of Public Security has alleged]?" she asked.

“I hope the world will understand the true situation, as Ilham Tohti and his students have done nothing wrong,” she said. “His website has operated in line with Chinese law.”

She said that Tohti's elderly mother, who was detained together with Tohti but released a few hours later, was admitted to the hospital when she returned home to Atush city in western Xinjiang in the Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture.

"She's still very sick," said Guzelnur, who resides with her two young sons in Beijing.

Hard-line stance

Uyghur human rights groups have said that Tohti’s detention is part of Beijing's broad strategy to drown the voices of the minority Uyghurs and underscores its increasing hard-line stance on dissent surrounding Xinjiang, the homeland of China's mostly Muslim ethnic minority Uyghur population, where a series of deadly riots has been reported over the past year.

In fresh violence Friday, state media reported that 12 people were killed in explosions and clashes with police, but a spokesman for an exile Uyghur advocacy group blamed authorities for the deaths.

In February 2013, Tohti was prevented from leaving China to take up a year-long university position in the United States.

Tohti also runs the moderate Uyghur Online website to discuss social issues involving Uyghur-Han Chinese relations, in articles published in both Chinese and Uyghur.

His overseas-hosted website has not been functioning since he was detained.

Reported by Mihray Adilim for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Mihray Adilim. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.





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