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China: Civil society groups demand release of Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti

An art installation features 175 portraits of individuals who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs, on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, 24 September 2014
An art installation features 175 portraits of individuals who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs, on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, 24 September 2014

Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on pen-international.org on 15 January 2019.

On the five year anniversary of the arrest of Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti, civil society is calling for China to grant his immediate release and to heed calls for the release of an untold number of Uyghur scholars currently detained.

Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist, writer and professor, founded the website Uighurbiz.net in 2006 to promote conciliation between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, but was arrested on January 15, 2014. Despite the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention finding his detention to be arbitrary in March 2014, Tohti was sentenced to life in prison in September of that year on charges of "separatism" after just a two-day trial.

The legal process involving Tohti was met with significant issues throughout. His lawyers were unable to meet him for six months following the initial arrest, his defense team was not provided with complete evidence by the prosecutor, nor were their requested witnesses allowed to testify during the trial.

Professor Ilham Tohti, for a number of years, criticised oppressive policies against Uyghurs and wrote extensively on constructive approaches to overcome unequal treatment between ethnic groups. Notably, he called for dialogue and reconciliation, using his web platform as the primary vehicle.

Ilham has been serving his life sentence since December 2014 at Urumqi's No. 1 Prison. Since then, he has been allowed visits by close family every three months and limited to one hour. Complicating this has been his continued detention in Urumqi, despite his family living in Beijing - a likely punitive move from Beijing. ChinaChange has noted that Tohti has been held in solitary confinement until at least early 2016 and has been denied the right to communicate with family and friends aside from minimal visits.

ChinaChange also reported that Tohti's 25-year old niece from Atush was sentenced in early 2016 to ten years in prison for possessing photos of him and two articles about him by Radio Free Asia on her cell phone.

Seven of his students (Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Nijat, Luo Yuwei, Mutellip Imin, Abduqeyum Ablimit, Atikem Rozi and Akbar Imin) all remain imprisoned on separatism charges, but their whereabouts and conditions remain unknown.

At the time, Ilham's case stood as a warning shot directed at Uyghur intellectuals and activists in China more broadly. The Chinese government has evidently failed to yield to his advice and now operates one of the most obtrusive surveillance states in the world while arbitrarily locking up Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in political indoctrination facilities. Estimates of the number detained range from several hundred thousand to well over a million.

Coinciding with the construction of the camps has been the detention of hundreds more Uyghur scholars and writers in the region. Notable scholars detained include professor Rahile Dawut, a respected specialist on Uyghur culture; professor Halmurat Ghophur, a prominent medical scientist; Gheyret Abdurahman, the deputy head of the Linguistics Department at the Academy of Social Sciences of Xinjiang; Qurban Mamut, a writer and magazine editor; Abdulqadir Jalaleddin, a literature professor at Xinjiang Pedagogical University; and Askar Yunus, a prominent historian of the Kyrgyz ethnic community, among many others.

We, the undersigned are therefore calling for the release of Ilham Tohti as well as all those scholars arbitrarily detained in political indoctrination facilities.

Organizations:

Amnesty International

ChinaChange

CSW

Free Tibet

Frontline Defenders

Ilham Tohti Initiative

International Tibet Network Secretariat

PEN International

Scholars at Risk

Society for Threatened Peoples

Taiwan Association for Human Rights

Tibet Initiative Deutschland

Tibet Justice Center

Tibet Watch

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO)

Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP)

World Uyghur Congress (WUC)

Scholars:

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor (Emeritus), MIT, Cambridge MA

Laureate Professor, University of Arizona, Tucson AZ

Rachel Harris, Reader in the Music of Central Asia and China, SOAS, University of London (UK)

Nathan Light, Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University (Sweden)

Kevin Carrico, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University (Australia)

David Brophy, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney (Australia)

James Leibold, Associate Professor, La Trobe University (Australia)

Gardner Bovingdon, Associate Professor, Indiana University (US)

Michael Clarke, Associate Professor, National Security College, Australian National University (Australia)

Vanessa Frangville, Senior Lecturer, Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)

Rebecca Karl, Professor of History, New York University (US)

Teng Biao, Visiting scholar, U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New York University (US)

Marianne Kamp, Associate Professor, Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University (US)

Victor H. Mair, University of Pennsylvania, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature (US)

Noor O'Neill Borbieva, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anthropology, Purdue University Fort Wayne (US)

Adeeb Khalid, Jane and Raphael Bernstein Professor of Asian Studies and History, Carleton College (US)

Kelly Hammond, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas (US)

Magnus Fiskesjö, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University (US)

Adrian Zenz, Independent Researcher (Germany)

Tom Cliff, Research Fellow, The Australian National University (Australia)

Françoise Lauwaert, Associate Professor, Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)

Solange Chatelard, Research Associate, Universite Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)

Flora J Roberts, Ph.D., Junior Research Group Leader: Environment and Society in Central Asia, University of Tübingen, LIAS & LUCSoR Research Fellow, Leiden University (Germany/Netherlands)

Yves Moreau, Professor of Engineering, University of Leuven (Belgium)

Sabine Trebinjac, Directrice de recherché, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) (France)

Michael Dillon, Independent Scholar, PhD FRHistS FRAS (UK)

Thierry Kellner, Lecturer, Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)

Ulug Kuzuoglu, Lecturer, Columbia University (US)

Alexandre Papas, Senior Research Fellow, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France)

Ondrej Klimes, Research Fellow, Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences (Czech Republic)

Darren Byler, Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Washington (US)

Sean R. Roberts, Assoc. Prof. and Director, Int'l Dev. Studies, The George Washington University (US)

Magnus Fiskesjö, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University (US)

Françoise Lauwaert, Professor of Chinese langage and culture (emeritus), Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)

Solange Chatelard, Research Associate, Universite Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)

Flora Roberts, Ph.D., Junior Research Group Leader: Environment and Society in Central Asia, University of Tübingen (Germany)

Yves Moreau, Professor of Engineering, University of Leuven (Belgium)

Sabine Trebinjac, Directrice de recherché, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) (France)

Thierry Kellner, Lecturer, Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)

Ulug Kuzuoglu, Lecturer, Columbia University (US)

Alexandre Papas, Senior Research Fellow, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France)

Ondřej Klimeš, Researcher, Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences (Czech Republic)

Hilde De Weerdt, Professor of Chinese History, Leiden University (Netherlands)

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor's Professor of History, University of California, Irvine (US)

Rian Thum, Senior Research Fellow, University of Nottingham (UK)

Joanne Smith Finley, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies, Newcastle University (UK)

Edward Schatz, Associate Professor, Political Science and Eurasian Studies, University of Toronto (Canada)

Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, SOAS University of London (UK)

Tsering Shakya, Associate Professor, Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia (Canada)

Dr. Mehmet Dikkaya, Professor, Kırıkkale University (Turkey)

Craig Clunas, FBA, Professor Emeritus of the History of Art , Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, University of Oxford (UK)

Dr. Alexander Morrison, Fellow and Tutor in History, New College, Oxford (UK)

Scott Simon, Professor, Université d'Ottawa (Canada)

Wen-ling Liu, Librarian for East Asian and Tibetan Studies, Indiana University Libraries (US)

Dr. Andreas Fulda, Assistant Professor in Contemporary Chinese Studies, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham (UK)

Olga Lomová, Professor of Chinese literature, Charles University (Czech Republic)

Rossella Ferrari, Reader, Department of East Asian Studies, SOAS, University of London (UK)

Dr. Beatrice Penati, Lecturer in Russian and Eurasian History, Department of History, University of Liverpool (UK)

James Millward, Professor of History, Georgetown University (US)

Till Mostowlansky , Department of Anthropology & Sociology , The Graduate Institute Geneva (Switzerland)

Henry Leperlier, PhD, Lecturer (retired), Chinese Studies and Language, Dublin Institute of Technology (Ireland)

Don Baker, Professor, Asian Studies, University of British Columbia (Canada)

Joshua Goldstein, Associate Professor, History and East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Southern California (US)

Renat Shaykhutdinov, Associate Professor, Florida Atlantic University (US)

Dr. Daniel Beben, Assistant Professor of History, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nazarbayev University (Kazakhstan)

Abduweli Ayup, PhD, Independent Scholar (Turkey)

Dr. Patricia Oliart, Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies, Newcastle University (UK)

Elisabeth Lund Engebretsen, Associate Professor of Gender Studies, University of Stavanger (Norway)

Professor S. Sayyid, Chair in Social Theory and Decolonial Thought, Univeristy of Leeds (UK)

Maurizio Marinelli, Senior Lecturer in East Asian history, University of Sussex (UK)

Prof. Em. Per Kværne, University of Oslo (Norway)

Estella Carpi, Research Associate, University College London (UK)

Dilinur Kassimova, Associate Professor, Suleyman Demirel University (Kazakhstan)

Sebastian Veg, Professor (directeur d'études), Centre de Recherches historiques, EHESS (France)

Sylvie Peperstraete, Professor, Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium) & Ecole pratique des hautes Etudes (France)

Naomi Standen, Professor of Medieval History, University of Birmingham (UK)

Séagh Kehoe, Teaching Fellow in Modern Chinese History, School of History, Politics and IR, University of Leicester (UK)

Dr. Jesko Schmoller, Senior researcher, European University St. Petersburg / Perm State University (Russian Federation)

John L. Esposito, University Professor, Georgetown University (US)

Gail Helt, Assistant Professor and Coordinator,, Security and Intelligence Studies Program

King University (US)

Martin Flaherty, Visiting Professor, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University (US)

Tamar Mayer, Professor of Geography, Middlebury College (US)

Nader Hashemi, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, University of Denver (US)

Steven Sabol, Professor of History, UNC Charlotte (US)

Carole McGranahan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Colorado (US)

Jesse Driscoll, Associate Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California San Diego (US)

Douglas W. Blum, Professor of Political Science, Providence College (US)

Stanley Toops, Associate Professor, Geography, Miami University (US)

Justin M. Jacobs, Associate Professor of History, American University (US)

Mohammad Fadel, Professor of Law, University of Toronto Faculty of Law (Canada)

Andrew J. Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Columbia University (US)

Deina Abdelkader, Associate Professor, Political Science Dept., University of Massachusetts Lowell,

Visiting Scholar at The Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University US)

Dr. Emil Nasritdinov, Associate Professor, Anthropology, American University of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan)

Russell Zanca, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Northeastern Illinois University (US)

Nazif Mohib Shahrani, PhD, Professor of Anthropology, Central Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

School of Global and International Studies, Indiana University (US)

Anthony Tirado Chase, Professor, Diplomacy & World Affairs, Occidental College (US)

Timothy Grose, Assistant Professor of China Studies, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (US)

Kristian Petersen, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Old Dominion University (US)

Scott Radnitz, Associate Professor, Jackson School of International Studies University of Washington (US)

Professor Rafik Beekun, Managerial Sciences Dpt.,College of Business, University of Nevada (US)

Ralph Litzinger, Associate Professor, Cultural Anthropology, Duke University (US)

Dr. David G. Atwill, Associate Professor of History, Pennsylvania State University (US)

Steven M. Vose, Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, Florida International University (US)

Jeannette Okur, Assistant Professor of Instruction, Dept. of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin (US)

Prof. Fred Dallmayr, Philosophy anf Political Science, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN (US)

Kirk A. Denton, Professor, Ohio State University (US)

Johan Elverskog, Dedman Family Distinguished Professor, Southern Methodist University (US)

Eli Friedman, Associate Professor, Cornell University (US)

Donald Clarke, Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School (US)

Jerome A. Cohen, Professor of Law, New York University (US)

Peter Zarrow, Professor of History, University of Connecticut (US)

Michael Yahuda, Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics, Visiting Scholar, George, Washington University (US)

Rory Truex, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University (US)

Maggie Clinton, Associate Professor of History, Middlebury College (US)

Gulnisa Nazarova, Senior Lecturer, Indiana University (US)

Brent Hierman, Associate Professor, Department of International Studies & Political Science, Virginia Military Institute (US)

Rafik Beekun, Professor of Strategy and Ethics, University of Nevada-Reno (US)

Kerim Friedman, Associate Professor, National Dong Hwa University (Taiwan)

Dr. Abigail Schoneboom, Research Associate, School of Architecture Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University (UK)

Dibyesh Anand, Professor of International Relations, University of Westminster (UK)

Galen Murton, Assistant Professor, School of Integrated Sciences and Technology, James Madison University (US)

Dr. James McMurray, Research Associates & Associate Tutor, Global Studies, University of Sussex (UK)

Martina Varkockova, Lecturer, Metropolitan University Prague (Czech Republic)

Martha C. Merrill, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Higher Education, Kent State University (US)

Dr. Johan Rasanayagam, Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology, School of Social Science, University of Aberdeen (UK)

Benjamin Gatling, Assistant Professor, Department of English, George Mason University (US)

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