International Community of Writers Stands By Uyghur Scholar’s Innocence

NEW YORK—Today, PEN received the devastating news that Ilham Tohti’s life sentence has been upheld by a closed court in China.

A writer, scholar, and leader in Uyghur PEN, Ilham Tohti founded Uyghur Online, a forum for dialogue between China’s Muslim Uyghur minority and majority Han populations. He was arrested in a raid on his home in January and found guilty of “separatism” in September—a charge that he firmly rejects. Tohti is the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award Winner.

PEN upholds Tohti’s innocence and holds deep concerns regarding his maltreatment and health in jail. Tohti’s wife, Guzelnur, reported the family has been denied access to bring him a set of warm, winter clothing. This week, Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, reported temperatures around and below zero.

“The upholding of Tohti’s life sentence constitutes a gross travesty of justice and a dark day for Chinese letters,” said Dominic Moran, Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN American Center. “Tohti’s body has been pushed to its outermost limits—including long periods shackled by the ankle, food deprivation, and now the current denial of warm winter clothes—constituting prisoner abuse that no person of conscience can abide. The international community of writers continues to stand with Ilham and his family, and implores the Chinese government to reverse this deeply flawed decision.”


Dominic Moran, Director of Free Expression Programs,, +1 212 334 1660 x 105
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager,, +1 212 334 1660 x 116