PEN Takes Action, Beijing Takes Notice
By Elliot Sperling, Associate Professor of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University
As a professor at Indiana University and a Tibet scholar, I have traveled to China many times over the last 15 years. But on Saturday, July 5, I was turned away at the Beijing airport, despite a visa in hand.
What changed? I started speaking out publicly about the case of my close friend, Uyghur scholar and writer Ilham Tohti, who has been detained in China on outrageous charges of ‘separatism’ since January. Now, Beijing is trying to intimidate and isolate Ilham’s supporters. These paranoid security measures are in inverse proportion to the solidity of the case against him.
But this is not about me. This is about Ilham.
I may be out the cost of a plane ticket, but Ilham languishes in jail for the simple act of writing. I may have experienced uncomfortable bureaucratic questioning, but Ilham was starved for ten days in prison. I was able to email and tweet my experience from a New York-bound runway; Ilham has had no communication with the outside world for almost six months.
Your support makes a difference. Please take a moment right now to send a letter to Secretary Kerry, imploring him to raise Tohti’s case with his counterparts in Beijing at every opportunity. In just a few minutes, you can help ensure the continued visibility of his case and protect him against further abuses.
When Ilham was finally given access to his lawyer last week, I was sure it was an indication of PEN’s success in raising the profile of his case. That same success also led to my expulsion from China. Beijing is aware of PEN, the testimonials it gathered on Ilham’s behalf, the honor he received at the 2014 Gala—and of all those who attended. Now they know that they simply cannot prosecute him in total secrecy.