On International Mother Language Day PEN Calls on China to Free Ilham Tohti


On 21 February 2015, International Mother Language Day, PEN calls for the immediate and unconditional release of academic and Uyghur PEN member Ilham Tohti.

Tohti is a public intellectual from China’s Uyghur minority and one the world’s foremost scholars on Uyghur issues. Arrested in January 2014, charged with ‘splitism’ in July 2014, and convicted following an unfair trial on 23 September 2014, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and confiscation of all his property. Tohti’s appeal against his conviction and sentence was rejected in November 2014.

Tohti has never promoted violence or separatism. In 2006, he co-founded the website Uyghur Online, aimed at promoting understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. However, his criticism of the Chinese authorities for their heavy-handed treatment of the Uyghur minority made him the target of frequent harassment. Following his initial arrest, the Bureau of Public Security for Urumqi alleged that Tohti had been using the website as a platform to recruit followers.

PEN International first began working on Tohti’s case in 2009, following his detention for speaking out about ethnic unrest that broke out in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), on 5 July 2009. Initially placed under house arrest, he was later transferred to an unknown location where he was kept incommunicado before being released six weeks later. Further harassment followed, including periods spent under house arrest.

Tohti is a member of Uyghur PEN and received the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 2014. He was an honorary Empty Chair at PEN International’s world congress in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in 2014. Several of his students, arrested at the same time as Tohti, were also convicted of ‘splitism’ and were handed prison sentences of between three and five years.

Take Action:

  • Write to the Chinese government
    • calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the Uyghur writer and scholar, Ilham Tohti
    • reminding them that as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights China is obliged to “refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose”  urging them to ratify the ICCPR without further delay.

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 send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 21 March 2015. ***

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