World Bulletin / News Desk
Detained Uighur activist, Dr. Ilham Tohti, arrived in a court in China's autonomous East Turkestan (Xinjiang) region capital Urumqi on the first day of his trial regarding allegations of separatism.
The courthouse was surrounded with a heavy security presence as journalists and international observers are denied entry to the building.
One said authorities had told the diplomats, from countries including the United States, Britain, France and Germany, that they had not applied for access in time, though the trial date was only confirmed by Tohti's lawyers on Friday.
A photo obtained by Reuters of the scene near the courthouse showed police with riot shields and batons setting up six-foot tall poster-like barricades with phrases invoking "openness" and "unity".
Dr. Tohti rejected evidence presented by Chinese prosecutors, who had"essentially finished" presenting evidence against Tohti, including testimony from his former students, his lawyer, Li Fangping said, rejecting it as made under duress..
"Most of the students said Professor Tohti had separatist goals or intentions," Li told Reuters by telephone.
"We believe they weren't trustworthy statements, that they were made under pressure," Li said, adding that Tohti refused to accept the testimony.
Dr. Tohti, who is a professor at Pekin International University, was arrested at the beginning of 2014 on charges of separatism in Pekin before being transferred to Urumqi.
Although Dr. Tohti is an ethnic Uighur who originates from the East Turkestan region, he had been living in Pekin his entire life. His lawyer protested against his transfer to East Turkestan capital Urumqi amid claims that his trial is being used as a symbol of repressing the political voice of Uighurs.
Dr. Tohti remained in the hearing last Sunday, with shackles on his ankles, for a total of three hours and fifteen minutes, in which his charges were read out by five prosecutors.
In the hearing, Dr. Tohti rejected the charges against him based on some 200 articles written and published by him in 2008 as being ideological and political.
CALL FOR RELEASE
The United States and the European Union have called for Tohti's release, and his lawyers have decried judicial abuses and mistreatment, from his being incommunicado in detention to the withholding of food for more than a week at a time.
"We reiterate our calls for Chinese authorities to release Professor Tohti and the students who were detained with him," a U.S. Embassy spokesperson told Reuters.
"...His arrest silenced an important Uighur voice that peacefully promoted harmony and understanding among China's ethnic groups, particularly Uighurs," the spokesperson said, adding that China needed to differentiate between "peaceful dissent and violent extremism".
China says extremist groups in bordering south and central Asian countries are spurring the violence in East Turkestan and around China, though the government has produced little evidence and experts question the extent of the links.
Activists counter that the government's repressive policies, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest pitting Uighurs against China's ethnic Han majority.
Tohti has repeatedly denied the charges he faces, which provide for a sentence of 10 years to life in prison, or a maximum punishment of death in extreme cases. The ruling Communist Party tightly controls courts and guilty verdicts in such cases are typically a foregone conclusion.
Human Rights Watch has called the trial a "travesty of justice" and the exiled World Uyghur Congress said his prosecution would only intensify ethnic conflict.
"China hopes that by charging Ilham Tohti it can threaten Uighur intellectuals of conscience to accept and spread China's policies of enslavement," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the group, said in an emailed statement.Last Mod: 17 Eylül 2014, 15:49