BEIJING- Imposing further restrictions on the persecuted Uighur Muslims, China has accused a leading Uighur intellectual of inciting “separatism”, a few hours after reportedly killing 12 Uighurs in far western China district of Xinjiang.
“Ilham Tohti organized a group with the disguise of his identity, colluded with leaders of overseas East Turkistan separatist forces, and sent followers overseas to engage in separatist activities,” said a statement by Urumqi Bureau of State Security. Xinhua reported on Sunday, January 26.
Tohti, 44, a Beijing-based prominent Uighur economics professor, has been advocating the rights of the embattled Uighur minority in Xinjiang.
Earlier this month, the economics professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing was taken by almost 30 policemen during a raid on his home.
Hours before his detention, Tohti wrote in a post on his mobile social media account: "The Uighur people have become outsiders in the development of their own homeland and survival.
"It is here that the people's anger begins to grow. Uighur people need an avenue to express their aspirations and protect their rights."
According to Saturday's charges, Tohti may face a long-term prison over supporting independence in the far west region of Xinjiang.
Tohti has “formed a separatist group” and “severely damaged the national security and social stability,” police authorities in Xinjiang said.
He also faces charges of exploiting his position as a professor to manipulate students, a charge dened vehemently by his wife.
“Do they really think the university would allow him to say such things in class? He's just an ordinary teacher,” Tohti's wife, Guzailai Nu'er, told Reuters.
“Why are they saying these things? And all this stuff about East Turkestan elements.”
Uighur Muslims are a Turkish-speaking minority of eight million in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
Xinjiang, which activists call East Turkestan, has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in the name of counter terrorism.
Adding to Muslim miseries in the restive region, twelve Uighur Muslims have been killed last Friday.
According to news reports, the clashes erupted after security forces raided a protest by Uighurs against selling pigs’ entire carcasses in Xinjiang markets.
“The Chinese vendors used to sell pork by jin (pound), but now they are hanging up the entire carcasses,” Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Munich-based World Uighur Congress, told Al-Jazeera on Sunday, January 26.
According to Raxit, police fired at the protesters, hitting the fuel tank of a car and causing a massive explosion.
A different version of the story was reported by Beijing saying that police have shot dead six Uighur Muslims during attacks in the restive Xinjiang, along with six more killed by explosives they owned.
“During the process of tackling a terrorist case in Xinhe county, they were attacked by thugs who were throwing explosive devices,” Xinhua official news agency said.
Refuting police allegations, Raxit said: “It is not possible for the Uighurs to have weapons, given the tight controls by the authorities.”
Since 2001, China has conducted a sweeping security crackdown in Xinjiang, further repressing Uighur culture, religious tradition and language.
Xinjiang has been the scene of numerous incidents of unrest in recent years, with the most notable in July 2009 which left nearly 200 people dead.
Chinese authorities have convicted about 200 people, mostly Uighurs, over the riots and sentenced 26 of them to death.
Beijing views the vast region of Xinjiang as an invaluable asset because of its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves.
Related Links:Hoisting Flag in Mosque Angers Uighur Muslims
‘Easy Killing’ of Uighur Muslims
US Panel Urges Calm Ramadan for Uighurs
No Ramadan for Uighur Muslims
Violence Welcomes China Ramadan