Uygur scholar Ilham Tohti to stand trial for separatism

Supporters say Ilham Tohti is only a campaigner for greater rights for ethnic minorities in region

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 3:38am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 8:11am

An outspoken Uygur academic has been formally charged with separatism amid continuing anti-government violence in Xinjiang.

The prosecutor's office in the region's capital of Urumqi made the announcement about economics professor Ilham Tohti in a brief online statement yesterday, adding that he would face trial in Urumqi.

Tohti was detained in mid-January. Through his lawyer, he has firmly rejected accusations of instigating separatism, which can carry penalties of several years in prison.

His wife, Guzaili Nuer, said she was saddened to learn of the formal charges and that she believed her husband had done nothing wrong.

He only did research and wrote articles about the people of Xinjiang
Guzaili Nuer, Ilham Tohti's wife

"He only did research and wrote articles about the people of Xinjiang," she said. "I'm feeling ill and sad now."

Tohti's lawyer Li Fangping wrote on his weibo account last night, criticising the prosecutors for failing to notify him of the indictment. He also said the prosecutors had yet to accede to his repeated requests for copies of the evidence against Tohti.

"I am shocked by how the Urumqi procuratorate has trampled on lawyers' right of defence," Li wrote.

Tohti has been a moderate but vocal advocate for equal rights for the Turkic Uygur ethnic minority in Xinjiang.

The move to file charges against him comes as the authorities engage in a crackdown after a series of violent attacks that Beijing has blamed on religious extremists and "terrorists" seeking independence for Xinjiang. The violence has grown more frequent over the past year and has even spilled out of the vast resource-rich region.

The government said that on Monday, militants armed with knives and axes killed and injured dozens of people in the towns of Elixku and Huangdi in Shache county, about 200km from Kashgar .

Official reports said police killed dozens of militants in response. More details have not been released.

Meanwhile, a French traveller said he saw a body lying in a pool of blood outside the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar's old town yesterday morning and that paramilitary police were pouring into the city by afternoon.

Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse