Silence an ominous sign for Uighur activist

Originally published by Financial Times, 17 February 2010

When someone rings Ilham Tohti’s doorbell these days, he gets nervous.

It has been more than a month since state security agents last got in touch, and Mr Tohti, an economics professor at Minzu University in Beijing and prominent representative of China’s Uighur minority, doesn’t quite know what to make of that silence.

As an advocate of equal treatment for his people and a critic of failed government policy in Xinjiang, the Uighur homeland that forms China’s northwest frontier, the professor has been under constant watch for years.

Following three weeks in a detention centre after ethnic riots last July in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, agents even moved in with him. “They stayed right here in my living room, and they kept me in the bedroom,” he says as he points to the back of his apartment. “They would let me out just for meals and to go to the bathroom.”

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