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Sep 23, 2014 1:37 AM

Lawyer: Uighur scholar in China gets life sentence

The Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) An outspoken scholar who championed China's Uighur minority was convicted of separatism Tuesday by a Chinese court and sentenced to life in prison, the scholar's lawyer said.

The Urumqi People's Intermediate Court convicted Ilham Tohti after a heavily guarded two-day trial that ended last week, said lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, who heard the news from the scholar's family. The court didn't answer several telephone calls Tuesday seeking information about the trial.

Liu said the court also ordered the confiscation of all of Ilham Tohti's possessions. In a message posted on Twitter, the lawyer said Ilham Tohti told the court he did not agree with the verdict.

Ilham Tohti was known as a moderate voice with ties to both the country's Han Chinese establishment and the Muslim Uighur ethnic group that has long complained about treatment under the government. A Communist Party member and professor at Beijing's Minzu University, Ilham Tohti ran a website, Uighur Online, that highlighted issues affecting the ethnic group.

Chinese authorities detained him in January along with seven of his students.

Tensions have run high and flared into violence in the Xinjiang region where many of China's Uighurs live. Authorities said several explosions killed two people Sunday in central Xinjiang but did not say who carried out the attack.

In May, police said, 43 people died when Uighur militants plowed two vehicles through a market street in the regional capital of Urumqi and hurled explosives.

William Nee, a Hong Kong-based researcher with the human rights group Amnesty International, said Tuesday's conviction shows the Chinese government is cracking down on any criticism of its Uighur policies in Xinjiang. After the recent violence, authorities have prohibited people in the region from having beards or wearing veils, and locals say many have been detained for speaking out about the situation there.

"It'll send a strong signal to (Uighur scholars) there's not much to be gained to take some risks and personal initiative to bridge the gap between what obviously people on the ground are feeling, severe discontent with the way things are going, and explaining them to Han policymakers," Nee said.

Ilham Tohti's 20-year-old daughter, Jewher Ilham, said Tuesday from Indiana, where she's studying, that she would continue to fight for her father's release. The authorities arrested her father in January of 2013 in Beijing's main airport as he was boarding a plane to take her to school in the U.S.

"He wanted me to stay in a land that has freedom," she said. "I'm speaking out for him. I won't stop."


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