If Liu Xiaobo wasn't locked away, I would never have bothered reading his essays. His jail sentence - and subsequent Nobel Peace Prize - helped attract more readers than he ever dreamed of. I had little interest in Ilham Tohti until the Uygur economics professor was jailed for life this week. Now everyone knows about him. I am fascinated as he seems to be a brave, decent, intelligent and peaceful man, precisely the kind of person Beijing should cultivate as a go-between with moderate Uygur nationalist groups. His crime was to have organised an internet-based student group "to write, edit, translate and reprint articles seeking Xinjiang's separation from China ... and to encourage violence". The first part could conceivably be true, but so what? The second part about violence is definitely not, according to practically all non-government or neutral sources who have contact with Tohti. From what I read he was about as non-violent as they come. I can support enlightened despotism as a strategic choice for the greater good of the Chinese people and long-term benefit of the nation. What alternative do we have to the one-party state anyway? But this kind of jailing is anything but enlightened. It is retarded despotism, and stupidity is the most unforgivable of political sins. In jailing men like Liu and Tohti, the mainland authorities have created not one but two Nelson Mandelas. Well done! Your jailhouses for dissidents are filling up fast but some inmates' moral stature is rising even faster. One reason Tohti was jailed may be because he was giving his time a little too freely to foreign reporters who haven't a clue about Xinjiang and who called him up whenever they needed a quick quote or a short analysis. The jailing is a way to shut out those reporters. China is facing a rising Islamist terrorist threat from Xinjiang. A series of Uygur attacks in July left nearly 100 people dead. A small number of Uygur radicals are working with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Islamist groups in Uzbekistan and lately Islamic State in the Middle East. If you want to fight Islamist radicals effectively, you have to distinguish the real terrorists from moderates with nationalist sentiments, not tar them all with the same brush.