CHINA: Take Action for Ilham Tohti


Ilham Tohti
PEN Center USA is seriously concerned for the well-being of Uyghur writer, academic, and Uyghur PEN member Ilham Tohti, who was formally charged with “splittism” on February 20, 2014, amid a crackdown on Chinese Uyghurs critical of the government. His wife received formal notification of the charges on February 25. Dozens of writers have joined PEN Center USA in calling for his release. Take action by signing the petition below.
Writer, economist, and Uyghur PEN member Ilham Tohti was arrested on January 15, 2014 for his peaceful defense of the human rights of the Uyghur people. If convicted, he could face life in prison or even the death penalty. Tohti’s arrest came shortly after the Chinese government’s pledge to make “maintaining social stability” the primary strategic goal within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), which PEN believes is part of a crackdown on dissent and criticism of Chinese government policies. Join PEN and writers including Teju Cole, Salman Rushdie, Francine Prose, Nicole Krauss, and more than 50 others by taking action to tell Chinese authorities to release Ilham Tohti now.
Current Status
On January 15, 2014, 30-40 officers raided Tohti’s apartment in Beijing and detained him. His mother was also missing for several hours that day and may have also been in custody. Tohti’s wife, Guzaili Nu’er, arrived home from work to find the officers rampaging through their home and removing several computers, flash drives, books, and papers. Their sons, aged 4 and 7, were forced to remain on the couch and threatened when they tried to stand. On January 16, a Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman stated that Tohti had been “criminally detained” on suspicion of “committing crimes and violating the law.”
On February 25, 2014, Ilham Tohti was formally arrested and charged with splittism, a crime that could lead to life in prison or even the death penalty. It is believed that he is being held at a detention center in Urumqi, XUAR, but his exact whereabouts remain unknown. His lawyer, Li Fangping, has not been allowed to register to defend him.
In a public statement posted at the time of his arrest by the Bureau of Public Security for Urumqi, it was alleged that Tohti had recruited followers through Uyghur Online, a website he founded in 2006. Hours before his detention, Tohti had reportedly expressed fears on Uyghur Online about increased pressure on Uyghurs. Tohti’s detention came shortly after the Communist Party of China launched a new “grand strategic plan” for the XUAR on December 19, 2013. This new plan pledged to make “maintaining social stability” the primary strategic goal within the XUAR.
Following Tohti’s arrest, several of his students were allegedly strip-searched, questioned, and detained as well. Three of them have been formally charged while the whereabouts of a further two remain unknown. According to reports, Perhat Halmurat and Shohret Tursun were formally charged with separatism, while Abdukeyum Ablimit was charged with “revealing state secrets” on February 24. The exact whereabouts of the three students are unknown; however, they are thought to be held in detention facilities in Urumqi.
Case History
Ilham Tohti has been a target of frequent harassment by Chinese authorities for his outspoken views on Uyghur rights since he established Uyghur Online in 2006. On July 7, 2009, Tohti was detained after speaking out about the ethnic unrest that broke out in Urumqi, the capital of XUAR, on July 5, 2009. He was initially held under house arrest before being transferred to an unknown location where he was held incommunicado for interrogation. He was released on August 22, 2009.
He has since suffered regular harassment by the Chinese authorities and has been prevented from leaving China. In April 2010, police warned Tohti against leaving for an international conference on Turkic culture at Ege University in Izmir, Turkey. In February 2013, he was detained at the airport and prevented from traveling to the U.S. to take up a post as a visiting scholar at Indiana University. His daughter, who was detained along with him, was released and put on a plane to Indiana by herself. Tohti has often been put under house arrest, with visitors to his home being required to register with the police outside.
In November 2013, security agents allegedly rammed his car and warned him against speaking to foreign media, threatening his family. Tohti had been giving interviews with increasing regularity after a car crashed into Tiananmen Square on October 28 and was set on fire; the family inside was Uyghur. The Chinese government labeled it an act of terrorism.

China: Uyghur PEN member, writer and academic Ilham Tohti detained; fears for safety 

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