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China Sentences Uyghur Scholar To Life In Prison

  • RFE/RL

Ilham Tohti in a 2010 photo

Ilham Tohti in a 2010 photo

A Chinese court has sentenced a scholar and advocate for the Uyghur minority to life in prison after convicting him of separatism in a trial his lawyer said was politically motivated.

Ilham Tohti, a former university professor in Beijing and a critic of China's policies in the western Xinjiang region, had pleaded not guilty at his trial in the regional capital, Urumqi.

Government opponents say the sentence could fan tensions in Xinjiang, which is home to some 8 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs.

Tohti's lawyer, Li Fangping, called the verdict and sentence "totally unacceptable" and said he would "definitely appeal."

"Based on the wording of the verdict, I think that this is an extremely politicized [case]," Li told Reuters news agency.

Tohti, 44, was accused of activities aimed at overthrowing Chinese rule in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs have long complained about treatment under the government.

Li said Tohti was deprived of his political rights for life and his assets were confiscated as part of the sentence.

Tohti, who was seen by many as a moderate and had ties to China's Han Chinese establishment, was detained in January along with seven of his students.

The United States and European Union have called for his release.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP