WUC Alarmed by the Arbitrary Detention of Ilham Tohti

Press Release – For immediate release
16 January 2014
Contact: World Uyghur Congress www.uyghurcongress.org
0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or contact@uyghurcongress.org

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) strongly condemns the arbitrary detention of Ilham Tohti and his mother by the Xinjiang and Beijing police on 15 January 2014. This is the latest of a series of arbitrary detentions, harassments and reprisals going back for years to which Professor Tohti has been subjected, and the revelation that he was arrested for unsubstantiated and vague allegations of “breaking the law” alarm the WUC. “As peaceful online Uyghur economic, social and cultural rights activist, he posed no threat to the Chinese state, yet he finds himself arbitrarily detained in what could be the final straw for him in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” said WUC President and prominent Uyghur rights activist Ms Rebiya Kadeer. The WUC therefore calls for his immediate release.

The eminent Beijing-based economics scholar’s wife, Guzali Nu’er, revealed via Professor Tohti’s uighurbiz.net website (original article not working, see here in English) on 15 January 2014 that he had been arrested by up to 30 police officers from the Beijing and Xinjiang police in the afternoon, thus representing the extra-territoriality of his detention. According to a tweet by Ms Nu’er, Professor Tohti may have been beaten by the police during his apprehension. His house, mobile phone and computer were also reportedly raided.

His mother was also detained, and his wife and two children remain closely monitored since his detention. Furthermore, Ms Nu’er reported that he, his wife and herself were not informed of the reasons pertaining to his arrest at the time, which is in violation of the Chinese Criminal Procedure laws. The uighurbiz.net website has also not been working since his detention reportedly having its administrative account deleted and its memory cleared, and searches of his name on Chinese social media are blocked. In another tweet by Ms Nu’er, at least 8 of Professor Tohti’s students have been summoned for questioning too, with the whereabouts of 4 unknown, whilst their computers and dormitories searched. Mutellip Imin, who had previously spent 79 days forcibly disappeared this year, and a man called ‘Shohret’ (肖克来提 in Mandarin), were among those summoned.

Professor Tohti appears to have foreseen his detention of this sort as is noted in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA) a few days before, wherein he reported increased surveillance, further saying that many of his friends had also been detained. Likewise, he had also revealed his concerns to prominent Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser.

Professor Tohti has been the chief administrator of the Mandarin-language Uyghur economic, social and cultural website uighurbiz.net for a number of years. Since its inception in 2006, it has been one of the few outspoken, yet considered moderate, sources on Uyghur rights issues. Several other administrators who have contributed to its running have also been arrested and sentenced to harsh prison terms on unsubstantiated and politically-charged motives, including Gheyret Niyaz who received a 15 years sentence in October 2009. “The manner in which Professor Tohti has been arrested is therefore alarming as it shows all the hallmarks of a repeat of this abominable episode in contemporary China,” Ms Kadeer furthered.

His arrest comes only a few weeks after a reported “landmark” speech by President Xi Jinping in which he outlined his and the state’s new strategy for East Turkestan following a turbulent year facing Uyghurs, resulting in the deaths of 219 people, most of whom were Uyghur. As is outlined in a Global Times article, the policies seemingly point to a new hardline approach in the region. “Policies prior to this policy shift were already bringing Uyghurs in East Turkestan to breaking point, as clearly evidenced in the scores of killings this year by the Chinese police – I dread to think of the desperation to which they will be subjected now. With the arrest of Ilham, the purge is now underway, “Ms Kadeer remarked.

Professor Tohti, his family and associates have been arrested, harassed and subjected to reprisals on numerous occasions in the past, as is detailed below. The WUC therefore calls upon the Chinese authorities to release Professor Tohti immediately and Gheyret Niyaz, and to cease its silencing of legitimate, peaceful Uyghur activism. The WUC also calls upon the international to take stock of this latest development, and to use all diplomatic means to assure the protection of Professor Tohti, his family and his associates that the People’s Republic of China is failing to afford.

Here is a timeline of the arrests, harassments and reprisals that Professor Tohti, his family and his associates have been subjected to.

Professor Tohti

June 2008 – uighurbiz.net was shut down for the first time
[link]

July 2009 – following the 5 July 2009 Urumchi incident, Professor Tohti was arrested and disappeared between 8 July and 23 August 2009. He was arrested along with two other activists, Xu Zhiyong and Zhuang Lu.
[link 1], [link 2], [link 3], [link 4], [link 5], [link 6], [link 7], [link 8]

July 2009-May 2010 – uighurbiz.net, along with other Uyghur websites Diyarim.com, Salkin, Shabnem, and Orkhum , as well as all communications in East Turkestan, were down following the 5 July 2009 Urumchi unrest

[link]

May 2010 – February 2011 – Professor Tohti and his family received a travel ban, which prevented his daughter from travelling to study in the US. They were banned from travelling outside of Beijing.
[link]

December 2010 – Professor Tohti, his wife and two children were relocated for a week to Hainan in the south of the PRC before and during the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, where they faced intense questioning.

[link]

July 2011 – professor Tohti reported that his email account had been hacked, which was then being used to send malware and other viruses to his friends.

[link]

September 2011 – Professor Tohti’s popular class on immigration, discrimination, and development in Xinjiang at Beijing Minorities University was cancelled.
[link]

Early 2012 – Professor Tohti’s then-6 year old son was denied access to primary education without being provided any reason, which was thought to be as a result of his work.
[link]

August 2012 – Professor Tohti was interrogated for 10 hours following his speaking to journalists and publishing an article on uighurbiz.net.

[link 1], [link 2]

October – November 2012 – Professor Tohti was placed under house arrest ahead of the Chinese leadership change.
[link]

February 2013 – Professor Tohti was detained with his daughter at a Beijing airport as he was boarding a flight to speak at Indiana University in the US.

[link 1], [link 2]

February 2013 – He was then placed under house arrest by plainclothed officers and was interrogated daily. He was also being denied healthcare.
[link 1], [link 2]

July 2013 – Professor Tohti was placed under house arrest following his call for transparency regarding the 5 July 2009 Urumchi incident.
[link]

July 2013 – Professor Tohti was again placed under house arrest around the time of the US-China Human Rights Dialogue.
[link]

November 2013 – Professor Tohti’s car, in which his wife and children were, was rammed by security officials, who subsequently threatened to kill him. He was ordered to not speak to journalists.
[link]

Associates

October 2009 – Mr Gheyret Niyaz was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He had been a contributor to the uighurbiz.net website.

[link]

December 2012 – Ms Atikem Rozi had had her passport application refused. She had been working on the uighurbiz.net website.
[link]

February 2012 – Ms Rozi was interrogated for approximately 5 hours in Toksu County, East Turkestan.
[link]

July – October 2013 – Mutellip Imin, girlfriend of Ms Rozi, was disappeared for 79 days in three separate locations after being detained trying to board a plane to Turkey to undertake studies. He had also been contributing to the uighurbiz.net website.
[link]