World Bulletin/News Desk
China's trial of a Uighur scholar on separatism charges completed its two days of evidence on Thursday, and his lawyer said a verdict in a case that has drawn international criticism might come next week.
Prosecutors in China's western Xinjiang region (East Turkestan) said economics professor Ilham Tohti had promoted the idea of independence for the region on a website he managed called Uighurbiz.net. Tohti has in the past spoken out for the rights of Xinjiang's indigenous Muslim Uighur ethnic group.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of death in extreme cases, though Tohti's lawyers say he will probably faces a lengthy prison sentence.
The United States, the European Union and human rights groups have called for Tohti's release after a nine-month detention widely seen as part of a government crackdown on dissent in Xinjiang, where tension between Uighurs and majority Han Chinese has led to violence.
Tohti's lawyer Li Fangping said on Wednesday that Tohti rejected evidence presented against him and statements by his students calling him a separatist had been made under pressure from authorities.
Tohti on Thursday was able to speak in his defence, Li said, telling the court that he established the website to promote dialogue between Uighur and Han scholars and that he had publicly opposed separatism and violence.
"They heard him, but whether they will consider it is hard to know," Li told Reuters by telephone from Xinjiang's capital Urumqi where the trial was held.
"It's difficult to say what the upcoming verdict will be. But the prosecutors were comparatively harsh, and they called for a more serious verdict," Li said.
"If it is quick, it [a verdict] will come next week," Li said.
China's ruling Communist Party tightly controls courts and guilty verdicts in such cases are typically a foregone conclusion.
Beijing blames a series of attacks in which hundreds have died on militants who it says want to establish an independent state in Xinjiang called East Turkestan.
Activists say the government's repressive policies, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest.
Tohti, who taught at Beijing's Minzu University, which specialises in ethnic minority studies, has said he never associated with any terrorist organisation or foreign-based group and has "relied only on pen and paper to diplomatically request" human rights and legal rights for Uighurs.
State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) showed video from a small, crowded court where Tohti, dressed in an orange plaid shirt, addressed court officials while flanked by police.
"During the court proceedings, the prosecution was conducted in Chinese at the defendant's request and the rights of the defendant and his legal advocates were fully guaranteed," CCTV said. Members of Tohti's family members, including his wife, sat in the crowd.
Separately, a court in the southwestern province of Yunnan sentenced four people to between 10 and 20 years in jail for "plotting terror attacks", state media said.
All four defendants, whose names appear to be Uighur, appealed against the rulings, it said.
The decision follows last week's sentencing of three people to death and one to life in prison for a March attack at Kunming train station in Yunnan in which 31 people died and 141 were injured.
Shen Deyong, the executive vice president of China's Supreme People's Court, urged judges to "speed up trials of terror cases and deliver exemplary penalties", Xinhua reported last week.Last Mod: 19 Eylül 2014, 10:37