Uyghur Scholar, Family Held

They face nearly a week of intense questioning by Chinese security officials.

Ilham-tohti-305.jpg Ilham Tohti in France, February 2009.

An outspoken ethnic Uyghur scholar, his wife, and his two young sons were taken into custody by Chinese authorities for about a week and released Wednesday after intense questioning.

"I have been taken in many times for questioning, but this time they took my family with me, including my two sons. One is four years old and the other is only a nine-month infant," Ilham Tohti, a prominent economist at Beijing's Central Nationalities University, told RFA following his release.

RFA had been trying to contact Tohti, who resides in Beijing, by telephone for the last week but to no avail.

Tohti said that the Beijing Public Security Bureau took him and family from their home to a resort on the southern island of Hainan just before the Noble Peace Prize ceremony on Dec. 9, 2010.

Chinese authorities had clamped down on dissidents and friends of Liu Xiaobo, the jailed 2010 Nobel Prize recipient, ahead of the ceremony after attacking the Nobel committee for honoring a "criminal."

Liu, a Chinese intellectual, is serving a 11-year imprisonment on "subversion" charges. He had called for democratic reforms and an end to China's one-party communist rule.    

"In the new environment, my baby has grown thinner within one week. That makes me so sad," Ilham Tohti said, sounding tired and exhausted.

"Also today, Dec. 15, is my wife’s birthday, I wasn’t able to celebrate it, even though it is not my fault. I feel very sorry for her and my family.”


He said he and his wife were questioned by security officials, adding that the "main purpose" was to "brainwash" him.

"I was questioned intensively this month about my recent lecture on minority policy in China, especially on Uyghur autonomy rights within the Chinese constitution. Plus, I am a good friend of Liu Xiaobo’s family."

Ilham Tohti has been under close scrutiny since ethnic riots rocked the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region's capital Urumqi in July last year.

The July 5, 2009 violence left some 200 people dead, according to the Chinese government’s tally.

Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.

Chinese authorities blame Uyghur separatists for a series of deadly attacks in recent years and accuse one group in particular of maintaining links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Reported by Mihray Abdilim of RFA's Uyghur service. Translated by Dolkun Kamberi. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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