Detained Uyghur Scholar 'Denied Legal Defense': Lawyer

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.

Authorities in Beijing have repeatedly refused requests for a meeting with a lawyer acting for outspoken Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who is being held by state security police in an unknown location and effectively denied any sort of legal representation, the lawyer said on Tuesday.

Li Fangping hit out at police for flouting due process in handling the case of Tohti, who was detained about a month ago from his home in the country's capital.

"It is still unclear where Ilham Tohti is being held, and on suspicion of what crime," Li told RFA's Mandarin Service on Tuesday.

"No one will deal with our queries; all they do is pass the buck and play for time," he said. "I have made more than 10 calls, and they say they will ask their bosses, but then they don't take the call."

Li said he had also tried to lodge a complaint with the police department over the lack of official documents in the case, but to no avail.

"The people in the complaints office are pushing us about from pillar to post," he said. "Eventually, a woman police officer in the complaints office told me that they can't accept any instruction documents from lawyers."

The Central University for Nationalities professor, who has spoken out for greater autonomy for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China's far northwest, was dragged away from his home in Beijing by dozens of police on Jan. 15.

Authorities said in a notice from the public security bureau in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, that he is being investigated for heading a separatist group that advocates violence to overthrow Chinese rule in the region, a charge dismissed as absurd by his wife and Uyghur exile groups.

Li said Tohti's wife Guzelnur had still received no news of any charges against her husband, who rights groups fear may be at risk of torture.

"I spoke to his wife by telephone [on Sunday] and she has received no paperwork at all," Li said.

Li said he feared the authorities were stonewalling because they had no intention of allowing Tohti a legal defense.

"The state security police won't come out and meet with me either," he said. "They have effectively ruled out a defense lawyer [for Tohti]."

He said police had flouted a number of procedures in detaining Tohti.

"This case has been brought illegally, because the agency bringing the case is obliged to inform the lawyer of the charges or suspected charges, and they are supposed to deal with the lawyer," Li said.

"We can't make our next move until they inform us of the charges. It is clearly against the law to refuse to see [Tohti's] lawyer."

"We will come up with a new arrangement in the next couple of days," he said.

Avoiding tensions

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, a close friend of Tohti, said the Uyghur scholar had only ever worked to avoid a worsening of ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.

"He wanted everyone to understand the plight of Uyghurs, and to highlight the sorts of policies that the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party is implementing where Uyghurs are concerned," Hu said.

He said Tohti's family were all under tight surveillance or house arrest.

Tohti's wife Guzelnur told RFA last month that several police officers continued to be stationed outside the door of the couple's Beijing home.

"The Communist Party can't even adhere to due legal process when the eyes of the world are on them," Hu said.

"They have treated his family without an iota of morality or humanity," he said. "This is the long-term policy of the Chinese government when dealing with political prisoners."

Last month, global rights group Amnesty International released an "urgent action" alert calling for pressure on Chinese authorities to release Tohti, labeling him a prisoner of conscience and urging police to reveal his whereabouts.

Four of Tohti's students at the Central University for Nationalities detained on the same day of his arrest have been released, while another four remain in custody, Amnesty International said.

The group issues "urgent action" notices for activists it considers at risk of being disappeared by the authorities or those who could face ill-treatment or torture when their location is unknown.

Tohti has been detained many times as a result of his advocacy of Uyghurs' rights, and was stopped from leaving China to take up a year-long university position in the United States in February 2013.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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