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Take Action for Ilham Tohti

Status: Convicted

Writer, economist, and Uyghur PEN Member Ilham Tohti was arrested on January 15, 2014, and later charged with and convicted of "separatism" for his peaceful expression in defense of human rights of the Uyghur people. Convicted on September 23, 2014, he was sentenced to life in prison. 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, and is part of a crackdown on dissent and criticism of Chinese government policies by the Uyghur people. Take action and tell Chinese authorities to release Ilham Tohti now.

President Xi Jinping Guojia Zhuxi The State Council General Office 2 Fuyoujie Xichengqu, Beijingshi 100017 People’s Republic of China Premier Li Keqiang Guojia Zongli The State Council General Office 2 Fuyoujie Xichengqu, Beijingshi 100017 People’s Republic of China Governor Nur Bekri People’s Government of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region No. 2 Zhongshanlu, Urumqi XUAR 830041 People's Republic of China

FREE ILHAM TOHTI

Your Excellencies, I am writing to voice my concern regarding the sentencing to life in prison of writer, economist, and Uyghur PEN Member Ilham Tohti, who was convicted of “separatism” charges for his peaceful expression in defense of human rights of the Uyghur people. On January 15, 2014, authorities arrested Minzu University Professor Ilham Tohti at his home in Beijing, leaving his two young sons alone while officers searched the home, confiscating several computers, flash drives, books, papers, and his students’ assignments. After more than six months in detention, marked by maltreatment by prison authorities and scarce access to his lawyer or family, Ilham Tohti was indicted on charges of Separatism on July 30, 2014. Ilham Tohti remains detained incommunicado in an Urumqi detention center in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), 2,000 miles from his home in Beijing. Several of Tohti’s students have also been convicted on similar charges, amid reports that many made confessions under extreme duress. Tohti’s arrest came shortly after the Chinese Communist Party pledged to make “maintaining social stability” the primary strategic goal within the XUAR, heightening a crackdown on dissent and criticism of Chinese government policies by the Uyghur people. According to reports, just prior to his arrest Tohti had expressed fears on his website, Uyghur Online, about increased pressure on Uyghurs following the Tiananmen Square car crash in October 2013. Ilham Tohti has been a target of frequent harassment by Chinese authorities for his outspoken defense of Uyghur rights since he established Uyghur Online in 2006. He has been detained several times; prevented from traveling abroad both for teaching opportunities and to attend PEN conferences; and he and his family have been physically threatened by authorities. I am seriously concerned by conviction and disproportionate sentencing of Ilham Tohti, and the fact that his case is part of an official and troubling crackdown on Uyghurs critical of the Chinese government. I believe Tohti has been targeted solely for the legitimate and peaceful exercise of his right to free expression, in violation of Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, which provides for freedom of speech, and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides for the right to freedom of expression as well as the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial—and to which China is a signatory. I therefore call for Ilham Tohti’s immediate and unconditional release, and urge the Chinese government to halt its crackdown on government critics and all forms of freedom of expression immediately. Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

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