Chinese Authorities Confirm Ilham Tohti Has Not Yet Been Tried
Reports that Uyghur scholar and 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award winner Ilham Tohti was tried in secret last week and received a “heavy” sentence were untrue, PEN learned today. Authorities in Urumqi—the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where Tohti is being held—have finally revealed to Tohti’s lawyer, Li Fangping, that his case was instead handed to the procuratorate to decide whether or not to indict.
While we are relieved to learn that justice was not yet completely thwarted in Ilham Tohti’s case, PEN remains immensely concerned about Ilham’s prospects for a fair trial if he is indicted. We understand that Li and fellow lawyer Wang Yu traveled thousands of miles from Beijing to Urumqi to request a visit with their client as permitted under Chinese law at this stage, but that police denied the request, citing national security. According to Li, they were told to wait for a decision from higher authorities.
Ilham Tohti, accused on trumped-up charges of “separatism,” has worked to promote peaceful dialogue between Uyghurs and the majority Han population in China. Tensions between the two ethnic groups have risen to new heights as restrictions on cultural freedoms in Xinjiang have expanded and small pockets of individuals have responded violently. Tohti, however, has never advocated violence and has worked within the country’s laws to promote equal rights for all of China’s citizens.
PEN reiterates our call to Chinese authorities to immediately grant Ilham Tohti access to his lawyer and his family in accordance with Chinese law. We urge that all charges against him be dropped and that he be released immediately and unconditionally in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and China’s own constitution, which guarantees free speech.