2014-01-15 Central Minzu University

January 15, 2014
Imprisonment / Prosecution
New Incident
Region/Sub-region: Country or Territory: 
Central Minzu University

Ilham Tohti, an economics professor and advocate for the rights of the Chinese Uighur minority, was reportedly taken into custody by Chinese authorities on Wednesday, January 15.  Police reportedly raided Professor Tohti’s family home, arrested Professor Tohti, seized computers, cell phones, passports, and other documents – including Professor Tohti’s teaching materials and student essays – and then took Professor Tohti into custody.  A Chinese Foreign Ministry Official stated at the time that "Ilham is under suspicion of committing crimes and violating laws, and the public security organ put him in criminal detention according to law." On February 25, Professor Tohti’s wife reportedly received a warrant for his arrest, charging him with separatist activities, charges she stated were “ridiculous.” As of this report, Chinese authorities had yet to grant Professor Tohti access to his attorney, Li Fangping.

Professor Tohti has previously been placed under house arrest by Chinese authorities, subjected to restrictions on academic travel, and interrogated by police in connection with his academic work.  Professor Tohti has also recently reported that police have harassed him, rammed his car, and threatened to kill his wife and children, in an effort to force him to stop speaking to foreign journalists.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the alleged harassment and detention of a professor, apparently as a result of scholarly and nonviolent expressive activity – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ right to expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, free expression and freedom of association, and to ensure the well-being of criminal defendants while they are in custody.

UPDATE: Scholars at Risk understands that Professor Tohti has been formally charged with separatism, which carries a potential death penalty. Prosecutors in Xinjiang announced the news online on July 30.

Professor Tohti was reportedly held incommunicado from his January 15, 2014 arrest until late June 2014. Scholars at Risk understands that Professor Tohti has now been allowed access to legal counsel and plans to fight the charges brought against him.

To view related report, please click here.