July 14, 2009

His Excellency Hu Jintao
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
P.R. China

Nur Bekri
Chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regional People’s Government
2 Zhongshaniu
Wulumuqishi 830041
Xinjiang Weiwuer Zizhiqu
P.R. China

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express serious concern regarding the detention of Uighur writer, academic, and PEN member Ilham Tohti.

According to our information, Ilham Tohti, Associate Professor of the Economics School at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, was reportedly arrested in the capital on July 7, 2009. His arrest is likely linked to the accusation by Nur Bekri, Chairman of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Regional People’s Government, that Tohti’s web site purportedly incited the recent ethnic unrest in Urumqi. Scores have reportedly died in the clashes that began on July 5, though the exact number of dead and wounded is impossible to verify at this time.

Ilham Tohti was born in Atush, Xinjiang, on October 25, 1969, and he graduated from Northeast Normal University and the Economics School at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing. He has studied in Korea, Japan, and Pakistan, and is known for his critical views of Chinese government policy and the provincial leadership in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. He was previously detained on three occasions for his peaceful support of Uighur rights, and is a member of the Uighur PEN Center. 

PEN American Center believes Ilham Tohti’s detention to be part of a targeted crackdown on dissent  and an increase in the harassment and arrest of writers in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which we view as a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory. We therefore seek details of any charges against Ilham Tohti and respectfully call for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all others detained in Xinjiang in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H. E. Mr. Zhou Wenzhong
Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the U.S.
2201 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W
Washington D.C. 20007
Fax: (202) 588-9760

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