China Change, published: October 16, 2015
Ilham Tohti, the Uighur scholar and public intellectual currently serving a life sentence in prison, has called on his family to engage lawyers and lodge an appeal for him through the Chinese judicial system. Ilham made the request on the second occasion that family has visited him since his sentence on September 23, 2014.
Ilham’s mother and brother traveled to the No. 1 Prison in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, on October 15. Ilham’s health is stable despite his being kept in solitary confinement, his lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan told Radio Free Asia, relating what Ilham’s brother had told him. Ilham also asked family to send him books. He firmly believes he’s not guilty of the charge of “separatism” leveled against him. His wife and one of his children visited him in July; the jail allows a visitation once every three months.
The Beijing-based dissident Hu Jia told Voice of America last year:
I have known Ilham for years. The first time we met, Ilham swore that his fondest hope was for Uighurs to co-exist peacefully within the Chinese nation. He’s opposed to separatism or violence in any form. All he wants is equality, dignity, and peaceful co-existence for his people. In all the years I’ve known him both as a person and as a scholar, I never witnessed the kind of behavior that the government is accusing him of. To take a moderate, scholarly campaigner for peace like Ilham Tohti, and to tar him with a label that’s the exact opposite of what he is — it’s just preposterous.
In mainland China, Ilham Tohti is the most— really the only—prominent and influential Uighur voice. By sentencing him to life in prison, the Chinese authorities show that they don’t want the Uighurs to have any voice. The fate of Ilham Tohti is the fate of all Uighurs living in China.