The United States remains concerned by the ongoing detention and prosecution of public interest lawyers, journalists, bloggers, religious leaders, and others who challenge official Chinese policies and actions.
On November 25, Chinese authorities in the northwestern province of Xinjiang placed seven college students on trial on charges of “splitting the country.” The whereabouts of the students had been unknown for 11 months, since January 15 when authorities took them and their economics professor Ilham Tohti into police custody in Beijing. Several of the students were reportedly forced to make televised confessions and they may be facing 5 to 15 year prison sentences if convicted.
Earlier this year on September 23, following a two-day trial closed to international observers, Professor Tohti was found guilty of inciting separatism and sentenced to an unusually harsh sentence of life in prison. Despite international condemnation of his conviction, on November 21 the Xinjiang court dismissed his appeal and upheld the conviction.
Prior to his arrest, Professor Tohti taught economics at Minzu University for twenty years. In 2005 he created a website to promote mutual understanding and dialogue between Uighur and Han Chinese.
Director of the U.S. State Department’s Press Office Jeff Rathke stated from the podium at a recent press briefing that the “United States is deeply disappointed that Chinese authorities upheld the separatism conviction and life sentence for prominent Uighur professor Ilham Tohti in a closed jailhouse hearing.”
“His detention silenced an important Uighur voice that peacefully promoted harmony and understanding among China’s ethnic groups,” Mr. Rathke said. “We will continue to call for Chinese authorities to release Professor Tohti.”
Director Rathke also expressed deep concern over reports that veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu had been tried on a charge of leaking state secrets to a foreign news outlet. Ms. Gao was detained by authorities in April and was subsequently shown “confessing” on Chinese television. She later renounced her confession saying it was made under duress.
“We urge Chinese authorities to differentiate between peaceful dissent and violent extremism,” Director Rathke said. “And we continue to call on Chinese authorities to release all persons detained for peacefully expressing their views, to remove restrictions on their freedom of movement, and to guarantee them the protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China’s international human rights commitments, including the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly."