Home Page > News Item > China: One year after court upholds life sentence, Uyghur PEN member Ilham Tohti must be released

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20 November 2015

Exactly a year after a Chinese court upheld the life sentence handed down to academic, economist and Uyghur PEN member Ilham Tohti, PEN International is renewing its call on the Chinese authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

‘It is an outrageous travesty of justice that Ilham Tohti is still languishing behind bars. He dedicated himself to peacefully creating dialogue between different ethnic communities. Tohti is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.’ Jennifer Clement, PEN International president.

Tohti, a member of the Uyghur minority in China, who has been a target of frequent harassment by Chinese authorities for his outspoken views on Uyghur rights, was arrested in January 2014. He was reportedly held in shackles for 20 days and deprived of food for at least 10 days at the start of his detention, and was formally charged with ‘splittism’ on 20 February 2013 amid a crackdown on Chinese Uyghurs critical of the government. Convicted in September 2014, after an unfair trial in which he was denied adequate legal representation, Tohti’s appeal against his conviction and sentence was rejected on 21 November 2015.

‘Ilham Tohti was arrested, shackled and imprisoned without a fair trial purely because he called for justice for the Uyghur minority.  To silence such a passionate advocate for peace and cross-cultural understanding at a time when that is exactly what is needed in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is not just repugnant, but absurdly short-sighted too.’ – Margaret Atwood, member of the PEN International Writers Circle.

The fate of our colleague Ilham Tohti fills many people with sadness and disgust. Sadness, because in this way such an outstanding and peaceful voice is silenced. Disgust, because Ilham Tohti did nothing punishable. He builds bridges instead of destroying them, in service of his country. So I ask, with many others: release him, immediately and unconditionally!’Geert Mak, member of the PEN International Writers Circle.

To imprison a writer such as Ilham Tohti is to imprison freedom itself. Everyone loses. Tohti, of course, because he lives in confinement, but also those who put him there, who live in fear of what he has to say. Both the Uyghur and the Chinese would do better if Tohti was freed and the grievances of the Uyghur were addressed. Let’s start by freeing Ilham Tohti.’Yann Martel, member of the PEN International Writers Circle.

‘Almost every feature of the charging, sentencing and imprisonment of scholar and writer Ilham Tohti is an abuse of human rights. Not only is he sentenced, shockingly, to life imprisonment for his peaceful efforts to achieve a proper status for his people, the Uighurs. This sentence, which includes confiscation of his family’s possessions, also sentences his wife and sons – not charged with any crime – to a life of indigence and dependence. The situation of Ilham Tohti belongs to the Dark Ages of human history. The Republic of China must be urged to rethink this shocking response and release Ilham Tohti.’Judith Rodriguez, member of the PEN International Writers Circle.

  • Release Ilham Tohti Immediately and Unconditionally

  • This petition is to demand that the Chinese government release Ilham Tohti immediately and unconditionally. Please complete and send the petition below to add your voice. You may edit the petition if desired before sending.

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Alternatively, you can write or email using the following addresses:

President
XI Jinping Guojia Zhuxi
The State Council General Office
2 Fuyoujie
Xichengqu, Beijingshi 100017,
People’s Republic of China
Fax: +86 10 6238 1025
Email: gov@govonline.cn
Salutation: Your Excellency

Premier
LI Keqiang Guojia Zongli
The State Council General Office
2 Fuyoujie
Xichengqu, Beijingshi 100017,
People’s Republic of China
Fax: +86 10 6238 1025
Email: gov@govonline.cn
Salutation: Your Excellency

And copies to:

Director of Department of Justice
Abuliz Usour Tingzhang
Xinjiang Weiwuer Zizhiqu Sifating
27 Renminlu
Urumqi 830
Xinjiang Weiwuer Zizhiqu
People’s Republic of China
Fax: +86 99 1231 1590

Please inform PEN of any action you take, and of any responses you receive

For more information contact Emma Wadsworth Jones:  Emma.Wadsworth-Jones@pen-international.org | +44 20 74050338

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