Sep 24, 2014 4:20 AM

Uighur scholar in China to appeal life sentence

The Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) A prominent scholar who championed China's Uighur minority plans to appeal his conviction and life sentence, citing what he calls his improper detention and the authorities' refusal to give his lawyers copies of evidence.

Scholar Ilham Tohti has denied prosecutors' charges that he encouraged separatism while speaking and writing about the discontent in his native region of Xinjiang. A court in the regional capital of Urumqi sentenced him to life in prison Tuesday and ordered the confiscation of his possessions.

One of Ilham Tohti's lawyers, Li Fangping, said his legal team had not decided yet when to submit the appeal. He said Tohti himself could do that from the court in Urumqi.

Li showed The Associated Press the first page of the 15-page document Wednesday. It cited several legal issues including what it said was the failure of police to tell Ilham Tohti why he was being detained and the extracting of testimony after he went without proper food in jail for weeks.

Tohti's harsh sentence was the most severe in a decade handed down in China for illegal political speech and drew condemnation from the U.S. and the European Union.

President Barack Obama cited the scholar Tuesday among several people worldwide whom rights group call political prisoners.

"They deserve to be free," Obama said. "They ought to be released."

Chinese writer Wang Lixiong tweeted on Tuesday that China had created in Ilham Tohti "a Uighur Mandela," referring to late South African leader Nelson Mandela who was jailed for 27 years before becoming president.

The official Xinhua News Agency responded a day later with a furious editorial, saying the analogy "displays not only a dangerous ignorance of history, but also a challenge to China's determination to keep its 56 ethnic groups united."

The "irritating comparison," the editorial said, "is blasphemy against the Mandela spirit."

Xinhua cited ethnic violence that has caused deaths of both Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang. It said the Ilham Tohti prosecution came amid a larger anti-terrorism campaign in China.

"Their accusations against the court's ruling came as the warplanes of the United States and its allies bomb the 'Islamic State' militants in their anti-terrorism war," the editorial read. "It is only because of Western countries' double-standards on terrorism that a criminal was hailed as a hero."


Video journalist Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.


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