A rights lawyer in China said that seven students of the prominent Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to a life in prison for separatism in September, are currently facing the same charges in court.
AP News reports:
Li Fangping, a defense lawyer for the economics professor Ilham Tohti, said the trials for the students began Tuesday in the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court in the far west region of Xinjiang. The same court sentenced their teacher to life in prison in September.
Li says they are charged with separatism, and at least three students have confessed on state television that they worked for a website that Ilham Tohti set up to discuss Uighur issues but which was accused of fanning ethnic hatred.
The 44-year-old academic, who’s considered a moderate voice outside of China, was charged with organizing and leading a separatist group, his lawyer previously said. He was apprehended by police in Beijing last January and brought to Xinjiang, where he was convicted on September 23.
In court, officials presented material showing Tohti’s views on Uyghur identity and ethnic policies in China, and used material from his classroom lectures and from his website, Uyghur Online, which he ran from 2005 to 2008, according to the New York Times.
Rights activists insist that Tohti was handed an unreasonably harsh penalty and that he was being punished merely for criticizing the government.
Last Friday, the Xinjiang high court rejected the scholar’s appeal against the conviction, and upheld his life sentence.