A prominent Uighur scholar has been formally arrested and accused of secession more than a month after being taken away by force from his Beijing home without explanation, his wife said Tuesday.
Guzaili Nu’er said she received the arrest warrant Tuesday and learned that her husband, Ilham Tohti, is being held in a detention center in the far-western region of Xinjiang, a center of low-intensity but frequent insurgency.
The arrest of Ilham Tohti came as Beijing is stepping up security in the region.
Xinjiang officials were not immediately available for comment after working hours Tuesday. A statement by local authorities in January accused Ilham Tohti of spreading separatist ideas, inciting ethnic hatred and engaging in separatist activities.
Ilham Tohti is an economics professor at Minzu University of China in Beijing and has been outspoken about the rights of the Turkic Uighur ethnic minority in Xinjiang. He is a critic of the ruling Communist Party’s restrictive policies in Xinjiang, but has not joined calls for Xinjiang’s independence.
“My husband is a college professor, a Uighur scholar. The description by the government does not fit him,” Guzaili Nu’er said. “How could the university have allowed him to do what (the authorities) have alleged?”
His lawyer, Li Fangping, said Tuesday that he had traveled to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, but had not been allowed to visit Ilham Tohti.
“From my knowledge of him and his statements, nothing constitutes the charge of secession,” Li said.
The charge is punishable by 10 years to life in prison, or the death penalty if authorities find the crime to be particularly objectionable.
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