Brother Denied Right to Visit Ilham Tohti, Moderate Uighur Scholar Sentenced to Life in Prison

By Yaxue Cao, published: February 24, 2016

伊力哈木_wife and children

Enter Ilham Tohti’s wefe Guzelnur Ali, walks with her children outside their home in Beijing, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Photo: AP


Ilham Tohti, the renowned Uighur scholar who was sentenced to life in prison on charges of “splitting the country” has been denied visitation by his family over the Chinese New Year. Reports had earlier indicated that Ilham’s brother would be visiting him in prison on February 18, but according to his friend, Beijing-based dissident Hu Jia, speaking to Voice of America, Ilham’s brother was effectively denied permission. Hu Jia learnt of the news through Ilham’s wife. Given the lack of further information about the reasons for the denial, supporters are worried about Ilham’s physical and mental health.

Hu Jia visited Ilham’s wife and children twice recently, taking the the two boys to a science and technology museum soon after the Chinese New Year. Another of Ilham’s good friends, the Tibetan writer Woeser, also paid a visit to Ilham’s wife.

伊力哈木采访2 (2)

Ilham Tohti. Photo: VOA

Ilham Tohti has been detained for two years since his arrest on January 15, 2014. On September 23, 2014, the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to life imprisonment on charges of splitting the country, also depriving him of his political rights for the rest of his life, and confiscated all his personal assets. Shortly after the sentence, the authorities moved to transfer away the 800,000 yuan (about $131,000) of the family’s life savings in the their bank account. Ilham lodged an appeal and pledged innocence to the charges. On November 21, 2014, the appeal was rejected by a higher court. On December 12 Ilham was sent to the Xinjiang No. 1 Prison to serve his sentence.

Ilham was permitted to see his family for the first time 18 months after he was arrested. His mother, two older brothers, and a younger brother spent about an hour with him on June 17, 2015. On July 8, he was able to see his wife, two children, and one older brother, again for slightly over an hour.

On October 15, 2015, one of his older brothers and his mother visited him again, and he told them he wanted to appeal his case.

Ilham’s wife, Guzelnur Ali, told Radio Free Asia that Ilham was being held in solitary confinement, was given a physical examination once a fortnight, not made to do forced labor, and was granted access to mainland periodicals as well as books that had been screened by prison authorities. But prison officials exercised severe control over visitation.

According to Chinese law, family members are allowed to visit imprisoned relatives once every month. But Xinjiang imposed additional, unlawful restrictions in Ilham’s case in order, we believe, to limit news about the Uighur scholar.

Hu Jia, in the VOA interview, described Ilham’s two children: one kindergarten-age, the other a third grader, both showing remarkable understanding of their father’s circumstances. They sought to comfort Ilham when they saw him in jail last summer, and in school they work hard to achieve. Guzelnur Ali does contract work for the library of the Central Minzu University in Beijing, from which she earns about 3,500 yuan a month (about $565), raising the children and also taking care of Ilham’s needs in prison.

伊力哈木_hujia, sons

Hu Jia with Ilham’s boys during the CNY holidays.

Though she’s only in her 30s, she has aged considerably in the last two years, Hu Jia said.

Hu Jia told VOA that the family is strong and self-reliant, but that the wife and children have had a very hard time of it since their father and husband was imprisoned.

Contrary to the charges against him, Ilham Tohti has adamantly rejected separatism. His writings show a scholar seeking reconciliation by bringing to light repressive Chinese Communist Party policies and the reasoning behind Uyghur grievances—all of which the Chinese state has sought to keep behind a veil of silence. “The path I have pursued all along is an honorable and a peaceful path. I have relied only on pen and paper to diplomatically request the human rights, legal rights, and autonomous regional rights for the Uyghurs,” he told RFA in a sober statement in July, 2013.  

The trial and sentence of Ilham Tohti have elicited waves of support and protest against his treatment at the hands of the Chinese authorities and a rigged legal system. He received the Barbara Goldsmith “Freedom to Write” Award from the PEN America Center in May 2014. In January, 2016, several hundred academics petitioned the Chinese leadership for his release.


Yaxue Cao is the editor of China Change. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao. 



Ilham Tohti: A Short Introduction

Ilham Tohti: A 32-minute Documentary

VOA Interview with Uighur Professor Ilham Tohti in 2013

Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations, by Ilham Tohti

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen, by Ilham Tohti.



4 responses to “Brother Denied Right to Visit Ilham Tohti, Moderate Uighur Scholar Sentenced to Life in Prison”

  1. I really don’t have any adequate words, to describe the utter contempt for and lack of respect for this current
    communist regime…UGLY..REPRESSIVE..BRUTAL…DARK…FOREBODING are just a few. Xi Jinping is a two faced bold liar, EVIL MAN. He cares nothing about the ordinary, everyday citizens of China..Paramount in his mind (sick mind) is the furthering of the selfish and egocentric communist regime of corrupt thugs. He makes it very clear, (give him that) either get onboard with the commie party way of life..or you will be crushed/destroyed and gotten rid of. He is taking this country of such wonderful people, backwards in time to the ugly, despairing days of the mass murderer..Mao
    Under him, there is no discussion, no free thought processes, no dialogue or exchange of ideas. What a tragic shame for him to put this regressive way of governing into play. He doesn’t have the smarts to realize, the ugly despotic ruler never wins out, you CANNOT and WILL NOT control the peoples ability to think for themselves…those days are gone dude.

  2. […] in China, authorities arrested Tohti on the charge of attempting to split the country. Source:… (Reliability: […]

  3. […] Tohti a été empêché de voir un avocat pendant les six premiers mois de sa détention et était maintenu dans des conditions extrêmement difficiles. Pour les vingt premiers jours suivant son arrestation, il a été enchaîné et en mars 2014, il a été privé de nourriture pendant dix jours. En septembre 2014, à la suite de ce qui a été décrit comme un « simulacre de procès », Tohti a été reconnu coupable de « séparatisme » et condamné à la prison à perpétuité. En mars 2014, Il a reçu le prix de la liberté d’écrire de PEN / Barbara Goldsmith. En juin 2015, soit dix-huit mois après son arrestation, Tohti a été autorisé, pour la première fois, à recevoir la visite de sa famille. […]

  4. […] [xi] Cao, Y. (2016, February 24). Brother Denied Right to Visit Ilham Tohti, Moderate Uighur Scholar Sentenced to Life in Prison, China Change. Retrieved from:… […]

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