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Beijing Making an Example of Uyghur Scholar Who Advocated Peaceful Dialogue

Beijing Making an Example of Uyghur Scholar Who Advocated Peaceful Dialogue

NEW YORK— Ilham Tohti, a scholar and writer who should have been a welcome ally in China’s efforts to build a harmonious society, instead faces more than a decade in prison as China continues its crackdown on dissent, PEN America said in a statement today.

Tohti’s trial began behind closed doors today, marking a decisive turn away from months of the state’s calculated publicity aimed at stirring up fears among his native Uyghur minority ethnic community. A member of Uyghur PEN, Ilham Tohti was arrested at his apartment in Beijing on January 15, 2014, after speaking out about human rights violations against Uyghurs on his website, Uyghur Online. Tohti was held in secret for over a month before his family received notification that he had been imprisoned in Xinjiang, 3,000 miles from their Beijing home, on spurious charges of separatism.

“This trial is an utter farce,” said Dominic Moran, Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN American Center. “Beijing is making an example of Tohti to deliver a message to all who dare to criticize the state to keep their mouths shut. But for Ilham Tohti and his family, this flexing of muscle translates into years of unwarranted separation, prison abuse, government harassment, and isolation from their community.”

In May, PEN American Center honored Tohti with its 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award to recognize his sacrifice in the service of free expression. Tohti’s 20-year-old daughter Jewher Ilham, in self-imposed exile in the United States since being forcefully separated from her father at Beijing International Airport in 2013, accepted the honor on his behalf at a ceremony in New York.

“I am heartbroken to see my father treated this way, but I am also very proud of him,” said Jewher Ilham. “My father wanted Uyghurs and Han Chinese to work together for peace and equality, and never advocated violence or separatism. While I know it is unlikely, I am hopeful that my country—his country—will recognize the value of my father’s work and spare him from years in prison.”

Tohti joins a long line of Chinese intellectuals whose words alone have landed them behind bars. Famously in 2009, writer and founder of the Independent Chinese PEN Center Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu is the only Nobel Laureate to receive the Peace Prize while in prison, for co-authoring Charter 08—a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule.

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 3,500 American writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. www.PEN.org

CONTACT
Katy Glenn Bass, Deputy Director of Free Expression Programs: kglennbass@pen.org, (212) 334.1660 x 109
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager: sedkins@pen.org, m. (617) 947.6512