BEIJING: A Chinese court on Tuesday sentenced a prominent scholar from China’s mostly-Muslim Uighur minority to life in prison for “separatism,” his lawyer said, in a case which critics say could add to tensions in the restive Xinjiang region.
Ilham Tohti, a former university professor and outspoken critic of Beijing’s policies in the vast western region, “will certainly appeal”, the sentence handed down by a court in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, Li Fangping, one of his lawyers, told AFP.
The United States, the European Union, and several human rights groups have called for the release of Tohti, whose prosecution risks silencing moderate Uighur voices and cutting off the possibility of dialogue, critics say.
Tohti, 44, was detained in January after he criticised the government’s response to a suicide car attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which the government blamed on separatists from Xinjiang.
The Xinjiang region is home to about 10 million members of the Uighur minority, and in the last year has been hit by a string of attacks on civilians and clashes which have killed at least 200 people.
Tohti was known for his moderate stance on Uighur issues but was repeatedly subject to house arrest and prevented from leaving the country.
He went on trial last week and was denied food and had been kept in shackles for weeks at a time during his detention, his lawyers said.