BEIJING (AP) — A state-run newspaper in China accused a recently detained Uighur scholar and government critic of splitting ethnic unity in a Saturday editorial, while his lawyer said he has received no official word about the academic.
Ilham Tohti, an economics professor known for his criticism of Beijing’s heavy repression of the Uighur ethnic minority, was taken away by police from his Beijing home on Wednesday.
Lawyer Li Fangping said that police failed to inform the family of Ilham Tohti of his whereabouts and possible charges, as required by China’s law. Li said he believed the professor had been taken to the western region of Xinjiang, home to most of China’s ethnic Uighurs.
China has tightened control over Xinjiang, which has been rocked by a series of riots and attacks on police and other symbols of Chinese power over the past year.
European and American officials have urged China to explain why the scholar was detained.
Xinjiang police could not be reached Saturday. Beijing police have not responded to repeated requests for comment. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing Thursday that Ilham Tohti “is suspected of violating the law and committing a crime” and that police have placed him under criminal detention.
Li said that authorities briefly detained Ilham Tohti’s mother on Wednesday, but sent her back to Xinjiang while placing the scholar’s wife and two children under watch at their Beijing home.
In the Saturday editorial, the state-run newspaper Global Times said that the professor has openly propagated separatism. The editorial does not speak for the government, but it may offer hints on the official view.
“Ilham Tohti is no ordinary Joe. He has close relationships with the World Uyghur Congress and overseas media,” the editorial said. “He often gives instigative speech in classroom.” The congress is a Germany-based group that seeks greater autonomy for Uighur people.
The editorial questioned why Ilham Tohti had been allowed to teach at Minzu University of China.
“What has surprised and puzzled us is that given his open speech of separatism, why he could remain standing behind the podium of a university classroom for so long?” it said, adding that “Minzu University of China should be by no means a place where people like Ilham Tohti can instill extremist thoughts in students.”
It criticized Ilham Tohti for trying to find an excuse for the several Uighurs who rammed a vehicle into a crowd in central Beijing last year. Beijing called them terrorists, but Ilham Tohti warned against jumping to conclusion without adequate evidence and suggested the government reflect on its action.
“Not only must we firmly strike against front-line terrorists but we also must clean up the opinion front that supports terrorism in order to isolate the force exhaustively,” the Global Times said.
Li, the lawyer, said that the editorial serves the purpose of government propaganda.