An ethnic Uyghur scholar who was blocked last week from leaving China to take up a post at a U.S. university said Thursday that he is being watched around the clock by police stationed outside his Beijing home and that his website has also been hacked.
Ilham Tohti said one of his students at the Central Minorities University in Beijing where he teaches is also being harassed by the authorities, who have warned him against giving interviews to foreign news organizations.
“Because I speak to foreign media, they question me and warn me, but I will never stop speaking out,” Ilham Tohti told RFA’s Uyghur Service by telephone from his Beijing residence. “In China, there is no freedom for anyone,” he said.
On Saturday, Tohti was detained at an airport in Beijing while attempting to board a flight that would take him to the U.S., where he was set to take up a post on a U.S.-issued J-1 visa as a visiting scholar at Indiana University.
His teenage daughter, who was to have accompanied him, was allowed to take the American Airlines flight to the U.S. and is now safe in Indiana, Tohti said.
After being questioned by police at the airport for eight hours, Tohti was taken back to his home in Beijing, he said.
“Now, a police car is parked outside my home 24 hours a day, and police question anyone who speaks to me in person or on the phone,” he said, adding that the Public Security Bureau in Beijing has warned him not to speak to foreign media.
“But I speak for freedom and democracy, and I want the world to know about the situation of the Uyghurs,” Tohti said.
A vocal critic
Tohti, who has been detained several times before, is a vocal critic of the Chinese government’s treatment of the minority Uyghurs, most of whom live in the northwestern Xinjiang region and complain of discrimination by the county’s majority Han Chinese.
Following his airport detention, unknown hackers attacked his website uighurbiz.net, which is hosted overseas and discusses Uyghur social issues and news from Xinjiang, Tohti said.
The website, a successor to the Uyghur Online website which he founded but was shut down by Beijing in 2009, had reported details of his detention, he said.
Chinese authorities have also harassed his student Atikem Rozi, Tohti said, with police taking her on Feb. 5 from her home in Toksu county in Xinjiang’s Aksu district and questioning her for four to five hours.
“Things are very bad for her right now, and her parents are very worried,” he said.
Ilham Tohti told RFA in December that speaking out on Uyghur issues was negatively impacting his family’s life in Beijing as well as his own.
In August 2012, Chinese authorities interrogated the professor, warning him not to speak to foreign media or discuss religion online after he alleged that Chinese security forces had been sent to mosques in Xinjiang to monitor Muslims during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
In September 2011, the Central Minorities University canceled a class taught by Tohti on immigration, discrimination, and development in Xinjiang, where many Muslim Uyghurs say they suffer ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness under Chinese rule.
Reported and translated by Mihray Abdilim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.