Uygur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was jailed for life after being convicted of separatism in September. Photo: AP

Seven Chinese students of outspoken Uygur scholar Ilham Tohti jailed for separatism

Seven ethnic minority students of a prominent Uygur professor – sentenced to life in prison for separatism – have been jailed for between three and eight years after being convicted of the same charge, a rights lawyer said yesterday.

Li Fangping, the defence lawyer of economics professor Ilham Tohti, said he had been told of the verdicts against the students by people close to their cases, but it was not clear when the decisions were announced.

It looks like the prosecution targeted Ilham Tohti, and the students were used to strengthen the case against the professor
Li Fangping, a defence lawyer

The students had stood trial for separatism late last month for working on a website run by Tohti in Urumqi in Xinjiang.

Tohti – jailed for life in September at Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court – was known for his criticism of Beijing’s ethnic policies in the restive far western region of Xinjiang.

His sentence drew widespread international condemnation.

Authorities had accused the professor and the students of forming a criminal gang, which had sought to split Xinjiang from China.

At least three students – Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Nijat and Luo Yuwei – had confessed on state television that, while working for Uygur Online, they were instructed by Tohti to run articles that could stir ethnic tensions.

The other four students are Mutellip Imin, Abduqeyum Ablimit, Atikem Rozi and Akbar Imin.

All the students except Luo – a member of the Yi minority – were Uygurs, Li said.

The students had been charged over their involvement with the Uygur Online website, which the government has since shut down.

Some also were accused of attending religious meetings in Hong Kong, Li said.

The students had received lighter sentences partly because the case had attracted international attention and partly because they were not the main targets, Li said.

“It looks like the prosecution targeted Ilham Tohti, and the students were used to strengthen the case against the professor,” Li said.

Those students who testified against the professor had received shorter jail terms, he said.