Uyghur political prisoner’s experience mirrors Tibetan persecution
One of China’s most significant political prisoners has spoken of the harsh treatment he has received in jail after being arrested on charges of “separatism” – the crime that has seen thousands of Tibetans jailed. Ilham Tohti is a scholar belonging to China’s Uyghur minority, a mainly Muslim group from Xinjiang province, north of Tibet. Uyghurs face many of the same problems as Tibetans, including economic marginalisation and the suppression of their human rights.
Tohti was arrested in January and had no contact with the outside world for months or his lawyers for months. According to media reports, he has told his lawyers that he was held in leg shackles for 20 days after his arrest and denied food and water. After staging a hunger strike because he was not given halal food, authorities then gave him no food and only tiny amounts of water for 10 days. Suspects detained under charges relating to “state security” and “separatism” in China are given even fewer legal rights than other Chinese prisoners and face severe sentences if convicted, including the death penalty.
Ethnic unrest in China
Although China’s constitution theoretically guarantees the rights of ethnic and religious minorities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs, in practice they face discrimination and constant attacks on their cultures and religious freedom. Many Uyghurs seek independence from China while others campaign for the protection of their rights. Ilham Tohti denies the charges against him. Unlike in Tibet, the Uyghur region of Xinjiang has seen significant violent resistance to China in recent years, with many Uyghurs and members of the security forces killed. This week is the fifth anniversary of fatal clashes in Xinjiang leaving hundreds dead.
Tibet’s political prisoners include ten jailed musicians. Contact the Chinese government now to demand their release.