The prolonged detention of Ilham Tohti, an outspoken Uygur economist, and six of his students has raised concerns that authorities in Xinjiang have tried them in secret and imposed a heavy jail sentence on him.
Guzaili Nuer, Tohti's wife, said her fears for her husband had grown after hearing that he may have been secretly tried and sentenced last week. Tohti was an associate professor in economics at Beijing's Minzu University of China.
"It's strange and ridiculous that none of our family, nor my husband's lawyer, have received any notification about the trial so far," she told the South China Morning Post yesterday.
I heard a heavy jail sentence was also given, but I don't dare believe it
"I am extremely worried. We lost contact since he was taken away by Xinjiang police from our Beijing home in January."
Tohti, 44, who has criticised government policy in Xinjiang, was taken into custody in January after police searched his home in Beijing. He was later charged with spreading separatist ideas.
Nuer said Tohti's six students at Minzu University were also detained at the house at the same time. At least one of the six was charged with secession like Tohti.
"A mother of one of the students called me yesterday to say that none of the six families had been able to contact their children since January," she said. "All six students are from minorities, five of them Uygurs. Their parents are distraught ."
Li Fangping, a Beijing-based lawyer who represents Tohti, told the Post that two separate sources had told him the scholar had been secretly tried by a court of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps(XPCC) last week.
XPCC, or Bingtuan for short, is an economic and semi-military governmental organisation in Xinjiang. It has administrative authority over more than 2.6 million residents, and hundreds of farms and businesses .
"I heard a heavy jail sentence was also given, but I don't dare believe it. In any case, it's essential that family members and lawyers should be informed if a trial had been held and a verdict handed down, Li said.
"I repeatedly called the Xinjiang authorities since last week, and someone from the Urumqi public security bureau finally picked up the phone late yesterday. But none of the officers confirmed or denied that a trial had taken place."
The Post was unable to reach the court Li mentioned.
A friend of Tohti who did not want to be named said he believed the scholar was detained because he had openly criticised Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Tohti said Bekri had failed to come up with practical measures to ease tension between Uygurs and Han residents after riots in Urumqi in July, 2009, left at least 200 dead.