The WUC strongly condemns China to sentence prominent Uyghur scholar Mr. Ilham Tohti to life in prison
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) condemns in the strongest possible terms, the recent ruling by the Urumqi People’s Intermediate court, finding Ilham Tohti guilty of separatism after only a two day trial and sentencing him to life imprisonment. Such an outcome is completely unacceptable and illustrates the clear lack of humanity or respect for basic legal rights on the part of Chinese officials. The WUC calls on the Chinese government to release Ilham Tohti immediately, and calls on all states and NGOs to raise attention to this completely illegitimate ruling and exert pressure on the Chinese government to overturn the decision.
The entire ordeal involving Mr. Tohti has been marred by irregularities and 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 how a corrupt legal system is able to bend and distort due process for state purposes. The incredible charges leveled against Mr. Tohti have never been supported by facts, and the so-called evidence against him has been retained by Chinese officials.
Prior to his detention, Mr. Tohti served as a professor of economics at the Minzu University of China, formerly known as the Central University for Nationalities, in Beijing, where he specialized in research focused on Uyghur-Han Relations, China’s ethnic policies and Xinjiang. Alongside his scholarship and teaching, Tohti is revered for establishing and maintaining Uyghur Online, a website dedicated to promoting Uyghur human rights and improved relations between Uyghur and Han Chinese people. Mr. Tohti has been recognized by the international community for his staunch opposition to violence, and continued support for Uyghur-Han dialogue, understanding and peace. In 2014, he was awarded the honorable PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for his unwavering commitment to free expression in China.
Mr. Tohti’s case has been of great significance and has been given a great deal of attention because of his profile and status in China, but sham trials like these, devoid of even the most basic due process, are unfortunately carried out regularly. This case sends strong signals to the rest of the Uyghur population in that it acts as it sets a kind of precedent in relation to similar cases. In other words, China’s sentencing of Tohti to life in prison demonstrates its total intolerance to all, even moderate, forms of dissent. In addition, the ensuing repression of Uyghurs by the Chinese government, including repression of free cultural and religious expression, has pushed Uyghurs to the edge, significantly contributing to the radicalization in the region.
After Tohti’s sentencing, not only will Uyghurs be even more hesitant to criticize or stand up against the regime, but will self-servingly provide the state with a yardstick by which all other cases will be judged. It has been clear that such a chilling effect has been the aim of the state throughout the trial.
In the last week, the international community has been outspoken about the case, calling for Mr. Tohti’s immediate release on a number of occasions have been the US, the EU and a list of other UN member states at the most recent Human Rights Council Session in Geneva. Such support signals that there is widespread consensus regarding the inadequate handling of the case and that we need to see real change in how victims are tired and punished.
The WUC plans to steadfastly offer its support for what Mr. Tohti’s lawyer has said to be an immediate appeal of the decision. Such a result cannot and will not be tolerated by any reasonable government or citizen. We therefore implore all states and other NGOs to stand up against this decision to ensure that real justice is done and that a fair and legitimate process is undertaken so that Mr. Tohti can be released.