Detained Uyghur Scholar Tohti Put on Secret Trial and Sentenced?

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uyghur-ilham-tohti-aug-2012-305.jpg Ilham Tohti in Beijing, August 2012.
Photo courtesy of Ilham Tohti

Ethnic minority Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, an outspoken critic of Chinese policies in the restive Xinjiang region, may have been put on trial and sentenced in secret, according to his lawyer, quoting unconfirmed reports.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Li Fangping said he had heard that the trial proceedings for Tohti, who was charged with separatism a month after he was detained in January, had been held but that the Chinese authorities would not confirm it.

"I can't confirm this right now. This information was given to me by a friend," Li told RFA’s Mandarin Service.

Asked if the information was reliable, Li said: "I'm not sure, and I have no way to confirm it.“

“The state security police aren't picking up the phone. If the case has been sent to trial in secret ... this could happen very quickly, so there is a worry [that this may have happened]. We can't rule it out."

But he declined to comment further.

Tohti, an economics professor at The Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, was dragged away from his home in Beijing by dozens of police on Jan. 15, and formally arrested on Feb. 20 on separatism charges.

If his trial has been held, it is not known whether Tohti was charged with committing the state security crime of “separatism”—which can result in the death penalty—or for the lesser crime of “inciting separatism,” which carries penalties ranging from less than five years to 15 years maximum.

No meeting allowed

Li has not been allowed to meet his client, although the charges facing Tohti are serious. Rights groups are concerned that he could face torture in custody.

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, where Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.

Tohti's wife Guzelnur, who has been living with their two sons under heavy surveillance at their apartment in Beijing since his detention, said she had no more information than Li.

"He heard this information from the Urumqi police, that Ilham Tohti had already been sentenced. But I don't know what is actually going on."

"Li Fangping is in Shanghai right now, and he will visit us tomorrow.”

“I think it's strange. How could they do that? They didn't inform the family. They are acting illegally. Can you bring a case to trial in such a way legally?"

Tohti’s university had stopped paying his salary last month, leaving Guzelnur and their young sons little to survive on as they struggle to cope with his disappearance.

Tohti's case comes amid tensions following a spate of deadly attacks in Xinjiang—home to the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, who complain of heavy-handed rule and ethnic discrimination under Chinese rule.

Xinjiang authorities declared a one-year crackdown on “violent terrorist activities” last month following a May 22 bombing at a market in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi that killed 43 people, including the four attackers.  

13 executed

This CCTV screen grab June 16, 2014 shows prisoners (seated -- in orange and brown) at the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi during the trial of those accused of staging the October, 2013 deadly attack at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. ((AFP PHOTO/CCTV)
This CCTV screen grab June 16, 2014 shows prisoners (seated -- in orange and brown) at the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi during the trial of those accused of staging the October, 2013 deadly attack at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. ((AFP PHOTO/CCTV)

Chinese state media reported that 13 people had been executed in the region Monday for "terrorist attacks” in seven separate cases.

The official Xinhua news agency provided the names of four of the executed without identifying them by their ethnicity, though some of the names appeared to be Uyghur, Agence France-Presse reported.

The report identified two of the cases as taking place last year and resulting in more than two dozen deaths, including those of 24 police officers and ordinary citizens in Xinjiang's Turpan Prefecture in June.

The announcement came hours after state media said three people had been sentenced to die over a car crash at Tiananmen Square in Beijing last October which Beijing has blamed on Xinjiang separatists, AFP said.

One other person was given life in prison for the Tiananmen assault, said state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), citing the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi.

Four others were given prison terms ranging from five to 20 years, Xinhua said.

Both the agency and CCTV identified several of the accused with names that sounded Uyghur.

All three people in the car—a man, his wife and his mother—died in the attack, which saw their vehicle plow into crowds of tourists, killing two and wounding 40 other people before bursting into flames, authorities said at the time.

CCTV showed the eight accused—two of them women—sitting in a vast courtroom as prosecutors presented the evidence against them. An unidentified woman wearing a headscarf in the audience wiped away tears.

For the first time security camera video was broadcast of the attack, with CCTV showing a white SUV turning onto a pavement at high speed and barreling into crowds of pedestrians, who scattered before it, according to AFP.

Reported by RFA’s Mandarin and Uyghur Services. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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