China is outlining what it says is evidence that led to the separatism conviction against and life imprisonment of a prominent Uighur scholar.
There has been widespread international condemnation of this week’s conviction of Ilham Tohti, an economics professor who pushed for greater rights for the minority Uighurs.
The United States, European Union, and several major international human rights groups have urged China to release Tohti, who they say was a strident but peaceful critic of Beijing.
An article in the official Xinhua news agency attempted to dispel that notion Thursday, portraying the professor as an extremist who encouraged his students to commit acts of violence.
Xinhua said prosecutors presented video footage showing Tohti urging his students to fight the Chinese government, which he allegedly called a “devil to the Uighur people.”
The article also quoted unnamed witnesses who said Tohti “had been behind over 100 articles advocating separatism” on his Uighur Online website, which the government shut down.
Tohti’s lawyer, Li Fangping, disputed many of the pieces of alleged evidence presented by Xinhua, saying the comments were inaccurate or misinterpreted.
Li told the French news agency that he has lodged a complaint on the grounds that it is illegal to publish evidence before Tohti has had a chance to appeal.
Li also said Chinese authorities also did not allow him to access the evidence before the trial because officials said it was “too sensitive.”
A Chinese official in charge of ethnic affairs, Luo Liming, insisted Thursday that Tohti’s sentencing “was carried out by the judiciary based on our state laws and regulations.”
The 45-year-old Tohti has for decades given lectures, written articles, and commented to foreign media about China’s treatment of the mostly Muslim Uighurs in the restive region of Xinjiang.
China has severely restricted Muslim religious life and traditional culture in Xinjiang. Many Uighurs also complain of what they say is preferential treatment towards the country’s Han majority, which have flooded to the region.
Xinjiang has seen a rising number of violent attacks in recent years that have killed hundreds of people. Most of the attacks were initially directed at state targets, but now also frequently target civilians.
Beijing blames foreign-backed Muslim fighters who it says are trying to form an independent state in Xinjiang. Many exiled Uighur groups say the violence is prompted by China’s treatment of Uighurs.