Prof. Ilham Tohti (centre) with Tsering Woser and Wang Lixiong/photo/Woser's facebook page
DHARAMSHALA, January 18: The United States of America and the European Union have expressed concerns over the detention of Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti and his five students on Wednesday and demanded information on their whereabouts. “We call on Chinese authorities to immediately account for the whereabouts of Mr. Tohti and his students and guarantee Mr. Tohti and his students the protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China's international human rights commitments, including the freedom of expression,” said the U.S State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.
Jen indicated that Tohti's detention "appears to be part of a disturbing pattern of arrests and detentions of public interest lawyers, Internet activists, journalists, religious leaders and others who peacefully challenge official Chinese policies and actions.”
On Wednesday, more than 30 officials from Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, the Beijing Public Security Bureau and the local police station ransacked Ilham’s home and confiscated four computers, mobile handsets, hard drives, flash drives and even his students’ exam papers, essays and books.
The police also arrested seven Uyghur students including 2 female students from their dormitories and confiscated their mobile handsets, computers and bank cards. However, the two female students were released later.
Ilham, professor of economics at the Central University for Nationalities, was “criminally detained” and was suspected of “committing crimes and violating the law”, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Ilham's wife Guzelnor told the police that he had done nothing illegal and that she was proud of her husband. Currently, Ilham’s family members including his ailing mother and two sons are under constant police surveillance with five policemen stationed outside his home monitoring their movements.
A close friend of Ilham and a noted Beijing based Tibetan writer Woser recounted a recent visit to Ilham's home. Ilham had told Woser that he had gone to the airport to receive his ailing mother in November and that the Chinese Police followed them and intentionally rammed their car from behind. Ilham had told Woser that the police even threatened to kill his whole family.
Tohti was arrested several times in the past for his advocacy. In a message to a reporter with RFA's Uyghur service on Wednesday, Tohti sent a message on WeChat saying, "The situation is very severe; I am in a bad situation."
Last year, Ilham was barred from boarding a plane for the US to teach at the Indiana University.