Uyghur scholar Tohti faces trial, as China ‘rescues’ children from religious schools


A sweep on illegal religious activity in the capital of China’s unruly far western region of Xinjiang has resulted in 190 children being “rescued”, along with the detention of dozens of people, a state newspaper said on Monday. Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people who speak a Turkic language, has been beset for years by violence that the Chinese government blames on Islamist militants and separatists, Reuters reports:

Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang in the past 18 months, prompting a sweeping crackdown by the government, including on religious activities. Last month the government said it had “rescued” 82 children in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi from religious schools known as madrassas, and that campaign appears to be continuing….Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest, a claim Beijing denies.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said that he feared more people would end up being caught up in the dragnet.

China thinks that Uighurs who uphold their faith and use the Internet are a challenge to China’s rule,” he said in an emailed comment. “China’s hostility will probably mean even more Uighurs lose their freedom.”

The trial of Uyghur scholar and activist Ilham Tohti (above) has been scheduled for Wednesday, September 17. Tohti has been detained since January, and was formally charged with separatism in July. In meetings with his lawyer, he has complained of mistreatment and earlier held a ten-day hunger strike to protest his conditions. According to his lawyer Li Fangping, prison authorities have been holding Ilham Tohti in ankle shackles for over a month. AP reports:

Authorities put shackles on Tohti’s ankles on Aug. 9, and they have remained there ever since, even when he goes to sleep, he told Li.The prosecuting attorney’s office argued that Tohti should be restricted because he had coughed to disturb fellow inmates, which led to scuffles with them, according to Li, who has reviewed materials provided by the prosecutors. Shortly after he was detained, Tohti went on a hunger strike for 10 days in January to protest being served food that did not follow Islamic dietary laws, Li has said. [Source]

Tohti has denied the charges against him and explains the motivations and goals behind his activism in a 2011 biographical essay. Read more by and about Ilham Tohti via CDT.

Tohti, formerly an economics professor at Beijing University, was arrested earlier this year in Beijing amid rising tensions in the northwestern region of Xinjiang between Muslim Uygurs and majority Han people, the SCMP reports:

He has been a vocal critic of the government’s policies towards the Uygurs, who are concentrated in the restive western Xinjiang region. Tohti is accused of activities aimed at overthrowing Chinese rule in Xinjiang – charges he denies. While a professor at Beijing University, he spoke openly about problems with China’s ethnic policies.

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