Appeal to the International Community for Imprisoned Uyghur Scholar Ilham Tohti
January 15, 2016 marks the second anniversary of the arrest and detention of Uyghur academic, Ilham Tohti, who was callously removed from his home in Beijing back in January 2014 and subsequently sentenced to life in prison merely for his attempts at bringing the Uyghur and Chinese communities closer together. We therefore urge on this important day that the international community join together in denouncing this injustice and to work for his release.
Tohti’s arrest, trial and imprisonment have all been marred by irregularities throughout, including the outright perversion of any fair legal process. Beginning with his questionable arrest in January, denial of family visits or access to legal counsel, denial of adequate food and water and the total disregard for internationally accepted legal rights, the case is a textbook example of a corrupt legal system’s ability to bend and distort due process for state purposes .
Despite clear provisions in China’s Criminal Procedure Law, Tohti was unable to meet with lawyers for six months following his arrest. Lawyers who had once represented Tohti including Wang Yu as well as those working for the Fengui law firm, including Zhou Shifeng and Liu Xiaoyuan have all encountered serious legal troubles as of late. Wang Yu was formally charged in early January for “subverting state power”, after her arrest during a broad crackdown on lawyers in July of last year. Zhou Shifeng, who was also arrested around the same time, was also formally charged with subversion of state power.
Following his trial in September, President Obama personally urged China to release Professor Tohti, along with the European Union, US State Department, and White House, whom all released statements condemning the sentence and imprisonment. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) also found that, “The deprivation of Mr. Tohti is arbitrary, being in contravention of articles 9, 10, 11, 18, 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and urged the government to “take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, which include the immediate release of Mr. Tohti and to grant him compensation for the harm he has suffered during the period of his arbitrary detention”.
Tohti’s case is now indicative and reflective of the deepening climate of fear and intimidation directed at all those that wish to question state policy. We have seen this policy pick up where it left off in 2015 with the suppression of domestic NGOs, the jailing of hundreds of human rights lawyers, and the prevention of the work of independent journalists, despite claims from Xi Jinping suggesting that human rights and ethnic harmony remain priorities.
Not only are these policies destructive to those choosing to speak out, but as with countless cases of authoritarian states throughout history, Chinese leaders will ultimately be undermined by a willful blindness to forces within the country that wish for more equality and justice and not less. We mustn’t allow the prospects of fear and intimidation to dictate our own work. We will remain strong in the face of relentless pressure and continue to work to reveal truth and work for justice and equality for those not in a position to speak out themselves.
We therefore call on the international community to work as a collective to move the yardstick one more inch in the direction of transparency, freedom, justice, equality and harmony.