Updated: 08/01/2014 04:14 | By Agence France-Presse

Exile group calls on China to release Uighur academic

A Uighur exile group on Thursday demanded the immediate release of an academic charged with separatism in China, saying the decision to prosecute him was political in nature.


Exile group calls on China to release Uighur academic

University professor, blogger, and member of the Muslim Uighur minority, Ilham Tohti, in Beijing on June 12, 2010 - by Frederic J. Brown

"We demand China immediately correct its mistaken methods and release Ilham Tohti," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said in an e-mail.

Raxit said that China's accusation against Tohti was a "complete political decision" that was not in accordance with the law.

Prosecutors in the far western Xinjiang region on Wednesday announced they were charging Tohti with separatism following his detention earlier this year, sparking renewed international calls for his release.

A conviction of separatism in China can be punished by death.

Tohti, who taught at a university in Beijing, has been a vocal critic of the government's policies toward his mostly Muslim Uighur minority, who are concentrated in Xinjiang.

The United States on Wednesday called on China to free Tohti, saying it was "concerned" over reports of his indictment.

But in a sharp riposte Beijing on Thursday urged Washington to not interfere in its affairs.

"The US side has on many occasions made irresponsible remarks on China's law enforcement and judicial practices under the disguise of their so-called 'human rights' and 'freedom' which constitutes wanton interference in China's sovereignty," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

"Ilham Tohti violated Chinese law, and his case is being processed in accordance with the law," Qin was quoted as saying by the state news agency Xinhua.

But the Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the charges against Tohti "deeply disturbing".

"The decision to indict on such a serious charge a man like Ilham Tohti, who is known for trying to bridge divides, shows how far China's human rights have deteriorated in the past months," Sophie Richardson, HRW's China director, said in a statement Thursday.

"It sends precisely the wrong signal to Uighurs when tensions are at an all-time high."

The charges come as China is cracking down over a series of violent attacks that blames on religious extremists and "terrorists" seeking independence for the region.

Such violence has grown more frequent over the last year and has occurred in areas far beyond Xinjiang.

China blames militants from Xinjiang for an attack in Urumqi that killed 31 people in May, and for a March stabbing spree at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming in which 29 people died.

Rights groups and many analysts and academics counter that the cause of the unrest can be found in state cultural and religious repression of Uighurs.

"The Chinese government appears determined to silence Uighurs like Tohti, who for years has tried to peacefully express Uighurs' legitimate grievances and advocate peaceful solutions," HRW's Richardson said. 

"Demonising moderates like Tohti won't bring peace to the region."

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