Life Sentence for Uighur Writer Ilham Tohti

By | September 24, 2014 at 9:45 am | No comments | Campaigns | Tags: , , ,

This statement originally appeared on PEN international’s website.

Tohti sentence a further stain on China’s freedom of expression record

The draconian sentence passed on Ilham Tohti, an academic and member of China’s Uighur minority is a travesty of justice, PEN International said today, as it reiterated its call for his immediate and unconditional release.

The Urumqi People’s Intermediate Court found Tohti guilty of “separatism” after a two-day trial that ended last week and sentenced him to life imprisonment and confiscation of all his property.

“We are appalled by the extremely harsh sentence given to Ilham Tohti. Uighur writers and scholars are an integral part of our international community of writers who are deeply committed to the values of the PEN Charter,” said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

“PEN International’s global membership, gathering next week in Bishkek for our 80th annual Congress, will continue to raise their voices in protest at this unjust sentence. Ilham Tohti’s presence will be strongly felt throughout the international congress by more than 200 delegates from all five continents – even if his chair will be empty.”

PEN has campaigned for Tohti since his arrest on Jan. 25, 2014 and his case will feature as an “Empty Chair” at the organization’s 80th international Congress, highlighting concerns at his imprisonment.

Tohti is one of the best-known scholars on Uighur issues, and is a co-founder of the website Uighur Online, which was designed to promote understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese. It is now blocked inside China. Videos of his lectures and posts from the website were reportedly brought as evidence against him during the trial.


Ilham Tohti has been a target of frequent harassment by Chinese authorities for his outspoken views on Uighur rights since he established Uighur Online in 2006. PEN International first began working on Tohti’s case when on July 7, 2009, Tohti was detained after speaking out about the ethnic unrest that broke out in Urumqi, the capital of XUAR, on July 5, 2009. He was initially held under house arrest before being transferred to an unknown location where he was held incommunicado for interrogation. He was released on Aug. 22, 2009.

After his release, he suffered regular harassment by the Chinese authorities and was prevented from leaving China. In April 2010, police warned Tohti against leaving for an international conference on Turkic culture at Ege University in Izmir, Turkey. In February 2013, he was detained at the airport and prevented from traveling to the U.S. to take up a post as a visiting scholar at Indiana University. His daughter, who was detained along with him, was released and put on a plane to Indiana by herself. Tohti was often put under house arrest, and visitors to his home were required to register with the police outside, most recently in July around the time that the U.S.-China human rights dialogue was concluding.

In November 2013, security agents allegedly rammed his car and warned him against speaking to foreign media, threatening his family. Tohti had been giving interviews with increasing regularity after a car crashed into Tiananmen Square on Oct. 28, 2013 and was set on fire; the family inside was Uighur. The Chinese government labelled it an act of terrorism.

For samples of Ilham Tohti’s writings please see:

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen
The Wounds of the Uyghur People Have Not Healed

Featured image of Ilham Tohti is courtesy of PEN International.


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