Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who has been held incommunicado since being detained from his home in Beijing on January 15, has been formally arrested for “separatism,” according to a Reuters report. However, neither his wife nor lawyer have been allowed to see him in detention. Ilham Tohti, who is from Xinjiang, is a professor at the Central University of Nationalities in Beijing:
Tohti’s wife, Guzailai Nu’er, said she had received a notice that his arrest had been formally approved and he was being charged with separatism.
“This is ridiculous. He’s never done anything like this. He is a teacher,” she told Reuters by telephone from her house in Beijing.
Tohti’s lawyer, Li Fangping, said that he would try and see his client on Wednesday, but he had so far not been given access.
“We’ll see how things go in the morning,” Li said from Urumqi where Tohti is being held in a detention center. [Source]
Li spoke with Radio Free Asia last week about the lack of access to his client:
“No one will deal with our queries; all they do is pass the buck and play for time,” he said. “I have made more than 10 calls, and they say they will ask their bosses, but then they don’t take the call.”
Li said he had also tried to lodge a complaint with the police department over the lack of official documents in the case, but to no avail.
“The people in the complaints office are pushing us about from pillar to post,” he said. “Eventually, a woman police officer in the complaints office told me that they can’t accept any instruction documents from lawyers.” [Source]
While Ilham Tohti was known to be critical of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, his defenders say he did not do anything that could be considered separatism. From AP:
“My husband is a college professor, a Uighur scholar. The description by the government does not fit him,” Guzaili Nu’er said. “How could the university have allowed him to do what (the authorities) have alleged?”
His lawyer, Li Fangping, said Tuesday that he had traveled to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, but had not been allowed to visit Ilham Tohti.
“From my knowledge of him and his statements, nothing constitutes the charge of secession,” Li said.
The charge is punishable by 10 years to life in prison, or the death penalty if authorities find the crime to be particularly objectionable. [Source]
Radio Free Asia recently released the transcript of a July interview with Ilham Tohti in which he predicted his own arrest. From the New York Times’ Sinosphere blog:
In a statement he gave to Radio Free Asia in July, Mr. Tohti sensed that the walls were closing in and that the authorities were growing increasingly unhappy with his outspoken advocacy for China’s 10 million Uighurs, a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people whose tenuous coexistence with the nation’s ethnic Han majority has been fraying in recent months.
“I have realized that I don’t have too many good days ahead of me,” he told Radio Free Asia, which is financed by the United States government. “Therefore, I feel that it is necessary for me to leave a few words behind before I no longer have the ability to do so.” [Source]
Read the full transcript here.
Chinese journalist Jia Jia posted an image of Ilham Tohti’s arrest notice on Twitter:
古再丽努尔.艾力: 经乌鲁木齐市人民检察院批准逮捕，我局于2014年2月20日23点以涉嫌分裂国家罪对伊力哈木.土赫提执行逮捕，现羁押在自治区公安厅看守所。 乌鲁木齐市公安局 2014年2月20日 pic.twitter.com/1zQuD7hXiJ
— 賈葭 (@jajia) February 25, 2014
Indiana University professor Elliot Sperling, whose university was planning to host Ilham Tohti as a visiting scholar before his detention, has posted translated tweets from his family and friends. His daughter Jewher Ilham is currently in the U.S. and tweets @JewherIlham.