Thursday, 31 July 2014

Another Uyghur Setback

What are the chances of Ilham Tohti getting a fair trial on separatism charges?
On the same day it was announced there was an investigation into Zhou Yongkang, there was also news that Uyghur academic and rights activist Ilham Tohti was formally charged with separatism and that his trial could start within weeks.

The prosecutor's office in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi made a brief online statement yesterday.

Tohti has been detained since January and through his lawyer Li Fangping, has vigorously denied accusations of instigating separatism, a charge that if convicted could lead to several years in prison or even the death penalty.

His wife Guzaili Nuer is upset hearing about the charges. "He only did research and wrote articles about the people of Xinjiang," she said. "I'm feeling ill and sad now."

Li wrote on his weibo account last night, criticizing government prosecutors for not notifying him about the indictment. He also said prosecutors had yet to accede his repeated requests for copies of the evidence against Tohti.

"I am shocked by how the Urumqi procuratorate has trampled on lawyers' right of defense," he wrote.

The formal charges against Tohti come as the authorities further crackdown on violent attacks in the region and a pro-Beijing imam named Jume Tahir was stabbed on Wednesday. It is believed the killing was a targeted attack.

The charges against Tohti will be another blow for for Uyghurs who was their moderate spokesperson, trying to explain to the Chinese government and the world what the ethnic minority wants -- respect of their Muslim religion, language, and way of life.

They feel they are being repressed and losing their identity as more of the younger generation speaks Putonghua than the Uyghur language. They are also being sidelined for jobs because of their ethnicity, limiting their job prospects which leads to them being marginalized financially.

Does the Chinese government realize its policies are provoking Uyghurs to resort to violence?

Tohti was their moderate voice, but now that he's been incommunicado, radical Uyghurs don't seem to see any way out except through brandishing knives and setting off homemade explosive devices.

His daughter Jewher is studying in Bloomington, Indiana -- her father was supposed to go with her on a one-year visiting scholar position at Indiana University, but was detained at Beijing International Airport in February 2013.

"I am angry about this, they have not followed the legal path," she said. "My father was only trying to foster a dialogue. What they have charged him with is untrue."

Now that Tohti will be tried for separatism, Jewher and her family need to step up the campaign to rally the rest of the world to protest her father's innocence. International pressure is needed now to show Uyghurs they have not been forgotten.

He was the winner of the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. More information about Tohti here.

No comments:

Post a Comment