Urgent Action – Ilham Tohti (China)

20 July 2009

UA 194/09 – Incommunicado detention/Prisoner of conscience (PDF)

CHINA – Ilham Tohti (m)

Ilham Tohti, editor of the website Uighur Online and associate economics professor at Central Nationalities University in the Chinese capital, Beijing, has been held incommunicado by the authorities since 8 July. His whereabouts are unknown, and he is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. He is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for exercising his right to peaceful freedom of expression.

At about 1am on 8 July, Ilham Tohti phoned a friend, saying that he had been told he would be detained and that he was afraid that he would never be able to speak to his friend again. Ilham Tohti told his friend that the authorities had accused him of instigating a riot between members of the Uighur ethnic group and the authorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China on 5 July. The authorities have stated that around 190 people were killed in the course of the unrest. Ilham Tohti denied the authorities’ accusation, telling his friend that he would never agree with using violence. Ilham Tohti is believed to have been detained at the university by police a few hours after making this phone call. His lawyer and family have not been informed of his whereabouts.

Ilham Tohti had been interrogated by the police between 5 and 7 July, after he posted articles on his website, Uighur Online (http://www.uighurbiz.net/) and his personal blog. The articles concerned a clash between members of China’s majority ethnic Han group and Uighurs in Guangdong province on 26 June. The internet service provider that hosts his blog removed these articles after the riot in Urumqi on 5 July.

Ilham Tohti, himself an ethnic Uighur, has been commenting on the situation of Uighurs in China for many years. His blog has been censored since the unrest in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in 2008. His Uighur Online website had reported human rights violations suffered not only by Uighurs but also by ethnic Han Chinese. The website has been shut down by the authorities at least twice: before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and for more than a month in March and April 2009. The authorities have put Ilham Tohti under surveillance and interrogated him after he traveled to France in March 2009. During the trip he gave media interviews and criticized China’s policies on ethnic minorities.

On 5 July 2009, hundreds of Uighurs protested on the streets of Urumqi, capital of the XUAR. The protests have to date left more than 190 people dead and more than 1,600 injured. According to state media Xinhua news agency, the Chinese authorities have detained over 1,400 participants, including several key figures accused of instigating the unrest.

The protests are reported to have begun with non-violent demonstrations against government inaction after a riot at a factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong province, resulted in two deaths. On 26 June, hundreds of Uighur workers clashed with thousands of Han workers at a factory where Uighurs had been recruited from the XUAR. Police have reportedly detained a man, a laid-off employee from the same factory, who allegedly circulated rumors which provoked the deadly clash and which the authorities later determined were false. Following the violence in Guangdong the authorities imposed an information blackout on the incident, with websites and online discussion boards instructed to delete posts related to the clash. After the 5 July riot, Guangdong police detained another 14 related to the 26 June violence.

Uighurs are a mainly Muslim ethnic minority who are concentrated primarily in the XUAR. Since the 1980s, the Uighurs have been the target of systematic and extensive human rights violations. This includes arbitrary detention and imprisonment, incommunicado detention, and serious restrictions on religious freedom as well as cultural and social rights. Chinese government policies, including those that limit use of the Uighur language, severe restrictions on freedom of religion, and a sustained influx of Han migrants into the region, are destroying customs and, together with employment discrimination, fuelling discontent and ethnic tensions. In the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Chinese government initiated an aggressive campaign that has led to the arrest and arbitrary detention of thousands of Uighurs on charges of “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism”. On 14 August 2008, Wang Lequan, Communist Party Secretary of the XUAR, announced a “life and death” struggle against Uighur “separatism”.

Local authorities maintain tight control over religious practice, including prohibiting all government employees and children under the age of 18, from worshipping at mosques.

Torture and other ill-treatment are endemic in all forms of detention, despite China having ratified the UN Convention against Torture in 1988.

Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:

  • release Ilham Tohti immediately and unconditionally as he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;
  • provide information on his whereabouts, and the reasons and legal basis for his detention;
  • guarantee that he is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment while in custody;
  • ensure that he is given access to a lawyer of his choice, his family and any medical treatment that he may require.


Minister of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China
MENG Jianzhu Buzhang
14 Dongchang’anjie
Beijingshi 100741
Fax: 011 86 10 63099216 (it may be difficult to get through, please keep trying)
Salutation: Your Excellency

Secretary of the Central Political Science and Law Commission of People’s Republic of China
ZHOU Yongkang Shuji
Zhongyang Zhengfa Weiyuanhui
9 Xihuangchenggenbeijie
Beijingshi 100032
Salutation: Dear Secretary

Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China
WEN Jiabao Guojia Zongli
The State Council General Office
2 Fuyoujie
Beijingshi 100017
Fax: 011 86 10 65961109 (c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Salutation: Your Excellency


Ambassador Wen Zhong Zhou
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington DC 20008
Fax: 1 202 328-2582
Email: chinaembassy_us@fmprc.gov.cn

Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after 31 August 2009.

Within the United States:
$0.28 – Postcards
$0.44 – Letters and Cards (up to 1 oz.)
To all other destination countries:
$0.98 – Postcards
$0.98 – Airmail Letters and Cards (up to 1 oz.)

Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots movement that promotes and defends human rights.

This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including contact information and stop action date (if applicable). Thank you for your help with this appeal.

Urgent Action Network
Amnesty International USA
600 Pennsylvania Ave SE 5th fl
Washington DC 20003
Email: uan@aiusa.org
Phone: 202.544.0200
Fax: 202.675.8566

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