York PEN shares the concerns of PEN International for Ilham Tohti, who was arrested on 15th December 2014, from his home in Bejing, China and is now in unreachable detainment.
Tohti is a prominent Professor of Economics at the Central University for Nationalities and is a member of Uyghur PEN. He is also active in debates concerning the ethnic politics of the XUAR region in north-west China. In 2006, he formed Uyghur Online, designed to promote understanding between the Han Chinese and the Uyghur ethnic group.
Tension between Uyghurs and the Han Chinese have existed in the XUAR region in north-west China for a number of decades, with a low-level separatist struggle for independence from the Turkic-speaking ethnic group meeting repressive government policies which have led to severe economic deprivation amongst the Uyghur community. PEN International has voiced concerns that the Chinese government has used the activities of armed opposition groups in the region as an excuse to suppress peaceful political and cultural expression. The XUAR region has experienced several violent clashes in recent months, and its unrest has been linked to other attacks in China. The BBC estimates that more than 100 people have been killed in violent clashes in the XUAR region this year.
Tohti is under investigation for promoting separatism through Uyghur Online. PEN fears that Tohti’s arrest is part of an apparent crackdown on dissent and criticism by the Chinese government, with a number of incidents of detainment arising recently in China.
PEN have been working on Tohti’s case since 2009, when he was first held in detention for speaking of concerns regarding ethnic unrest in the capital of XUAR region, Urumqi. Tohti has since suffered further harassment and was prevented from travelling to the USA to take up a position at Indiana University in February 2013.
Whilst no formal charges have been made against Tohti, there has been no contact between him and either his family, or his lawyer, since his arrest on 15th January. York PEN calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Ilham Tohti and asks all supporters of York PEN to join our campaign. Update: On the 20th February, Tohti was formally charged with separatism.
York PEN encourages its supporters to spread awareness of the campaign across social media. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign our letter of appeal to the Chinese Embassy.