International PEN is seriously concerned about the detention of writer, academic, and Uighur PEN member Ilham Tohti, who was reportedly arrested in Beijing on July 7, 2009 after speaking out on the ethnic unrest that broke out in Urumqi on July 5, 2009. PEN seeks details of any charges against Ilham Tohti, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release if held in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory.

Background Information

According to PEN’s information, Ilham Tohti was reportedly arrested in Beijing because of an online article in which he criticized Nur Bekri, Chairman of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Regional People's Government, for his perceived support of Han Chinese following the turmoil in Urumqi.

Tohti, an associate professor of the Economics School at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, was born in Atush, Xinjiang, on October 25, 1969. He graduated from Northeast Normal University and the Economics School at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing. In addition to his main teaching post, Tohti is also Chairman and General Manager of Uighur Online Web Technology Development Co. Ltd. and a guest professor at the University of Kazakhstan. 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 Automous Region (XUAR). He was previously detained on three occasions for his peaceful support of Uighur rights, and is a member of the Uighur PEN Center.

The Xinjiang Autonomous Region in northwest China is home to many Muslim Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group. Some Uighurs have waged a low-level separatist struggle for independence from Chinese rule for decades because repressive government policies have led to severe economic deprivation among the Uighur community and ethnic tension between Uighurs and Han Chinese. It is widely believed that the Chinese government has exaggerated the alleged terrorist threat in the region to suppress peaceful political and cultural expression. According to Human Rights Watch:

Much like Tibetans, the Uighurs in Xinjiang have struggled for cultural survival in the face of a government-supported influx by Chinese migrants, as well as harsh repression of political dissent and any expression, however lawful or peaceful, of their distinct identity. Some have also resorted to violence in a struggle for independence. Chinese authorities have not discriminated between peaceful and violent dissent, however, and their fight against "separatism" and "religious extremism" has been used to justify widespread and systematic human rights violations against Uighurs, including many involved in non-violent political, religious, and cultural activities.

Writers and journalists are among those at particular risk of arrest in the region for speaking out on these issues.

On July 5, 2009, Uighurs took to the streets of Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Automous Region, to protest an incident in which a number of Uighur workers in a toy factory in Guangdong Province, southern China, were attacked by Han Chinese and killed. These protests led to violent clashes with Han Chinese in Urumqi which were violently suppressed by the authorities. The state news agency, Xinhua, reports that 156 have been killed and over 1000 wounded, although details and figures are impossible verify. An estimated 1400 people have reportedly been arrested.

Write A Letter

  • Expressing serious concern about the detention of Uyghur writer and academic Ilham Tohti, apparently for expressing views critical of Chinese economic policy in XUAR, and seeking details of any charges against him;
  • Calling for his immediate and unconditional release if held in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory;
  • Seeking assurances that he is granted full access to his family and legal representation, and is treated humanely in detention;
  • Calling upon the Chinese authorities to protect the right of all citizens to accurate, impartial information, the right to peaceful assembly and free expression, and the right to a fair trial for anyone suspected of committing a crime during the protests.

Send Your Letter To

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

Chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regional People's Government
Nur Bekri
Xinjiang Weiwuer Zizhiqu Renmin Zhengfu
2 Zhongshanlu
Wulumuqishi 830041
Xinjiang Weiwuer Zizhiqu
People's Republic of China.

Please note that fax numbers are not available for the Chinese authorities, so you may wish to ask the diplomatic representative for China in your country to forward your appeals.

Please check with PEN if sending appeals after August 1, 2009: ftw[at]