The wife of detained ethnic minority Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti said she is concerned over his health after it was revealed that he had gone on a hunger strike and was deprived of food and adequate water.
Uyghur rights groups called the conditions of Tohti’s imprisonment a human rights violation and demanded he be given access to proper medical treatment.
Guzelnur said that although one of two lawyers who met Tohti at a detention center in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region on Thursday had told her that his health was not at risk, she was concerned about his sudden weight loss.
She called on the authorities to allow his family to meet with Tohti, a long-time advocate of Uyghur rights and an outspoken critic of Chinese policies in the Xinjiang region.
“My husband did not have any illnesses before,” she told RFA’s Uyghur Service. “Even though the lawyer said he is fine, I am worried because he lost 16 kilograms [[35 pounds].”
Lawyers Li Fangping had contacted Guzelnur after his meeting with Tohti to reassure her that her husband was in good health.
“He told me that my husband’s health is good and not to worry about it too much,” Guzelnur said.
Tohti had told Li and another lawyer Wang Yu in their first meeting since being taken into custody that he was denied food and given one and a half glasses of water for 10 days in March in an apparent punishment for failing to cooperate with the authorities.
He told them that the deprivation of food and water made him shed16 kilograms [35 pounds].
Earlier in January, during his initial days in detention, Tohti had staged a 10-day hunger strike in protest against food served to him that didn't follow Islamic dietary laws.
Tohti was dragged away from his home in the Chinese capital by dozens of police on Jan. 15, and formally arrested on Feb. 20 on separatism charges, which the academic has dismissed as spurious.
He was also sacked as an economics professor at The Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, where he had been teaching for many years.
Human rights groups have said that Tohti's detention is part of Beijing's broad strategy to drown the voices of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, who call Xinjiang their homeland.
It also underscores Beijing's 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.
Uyghur rights groups have expressed concern over Tohti’s fate under detention.
The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) said it considers the conditions of his imprisonment a violation of international human rights standards, saying the Chinese authorities should allow Tohti access to proper medical treatment and release him.
UHRP also asked the international community, particularly concerned governments, to call on Beijing to account for its handling of Tohti’s case.
“The Chinese government’s treatment of Ilham Tohti is scandalous,” said UHRP director Alim Seytoff in a statement.
“By any standard, deprivation of food and water as some kind of retribution for a crime he did not commit is cruel,” he said.
“This state-sanctioned brutality is happening to him all because he wanted to have a rational and open discussion about the documented discrimination and marginalization of the Uyghur people in China,” Seytoff said.
Guzelnur said she had asked Li to urge the authorities to allow Tohti’s family, especially his ailing mother, to visit with him.
“Right now, his mother is ill,” she said, adding that she had told Li that “even if I cannot meet with him, just find a way for his mother to visit with him."
The authorities have said they will allow only Li and Wang Yu access to Tohti.
Guzelnur also said she is confident that her husband will be vindicated.
“When we got married, Ilham told me clearly that he will fight for the Uyghurs' rights within the Chinese law and promote this view through his website Uyghur Online,” she said.
“Right now, it has been half a year since his detention and I have been left alone with our two kids. I know my husband has taken the right path and that is why I support him.”
“I also tell my kids, ‘Your father is a good man and you should be proud of him.’”
Tohti's university stopped paying his salary last month, leaving Guzelnur and their two young sons little to survive on as they struggle to cope with his disappearance.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.