Detained Uygur economist Ilham Tohti denied food for 10 days in custody, lawyer says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 3:11am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 3:11am

Detained Uygur economist Ilham Tohti staged a hunger strike in jail and was later denied food for 10 days, his lawyer said after visiting him yesterday at a detention centre in Xinjiang.

Until now, little has been known about the status of Tohti, an economics professor, since he was taken away from his home in Beijing by police in mid-January and taken to Xinjiang, where he was later accused of separatism.

Tohti has been a moderate but vocal advocate for equal rights for the Turkic-speaking Uygur ethnic minority in the western region, which has been shaken by escalating unrest.

Tohti began a hunger strike on January 16 when the detention house refused to provide halal food. The hunger strike lasted 10 days until staff agreed to provide him Uygur naan bread.

"They gave him a small piece of naan, an egg and milk as a meal. The detention house refused to specially prepare halal food just for him," said Li. Then, on March 1, staff suddenly stopped providing food. Only a half-filled glass of water was left for him. That was the day suspected Uygur assailants attacked Kunming railway station, killing 29 people and injuring 143.

According to Li, Tohti survived by sipping a little of his meagre water ration every day.

"He has lost 16kg," Li told the Post. "He also suffers severe prostatitis, but does not qualify for medical parole."

He had also been put in shackles for about 20 days.

Calls to the detention centre in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, went unanswered.

Yesterday's meeting lasted about five hours, but did not make Li any more confident about the case is being handled. Tohti's wife, Guzaili Nuer, also said she feared for her husband's health. But Li said, at this stage, Nuer won't be able to visit Tohti. Li and a fellow lawyer went to Urumqi this week, and were told the case had been transferred to prosecutors. Tohti says he is innocent and advocates ethnic tolerance.

Additional reporting by Associated Press