Detention part of Chinese push
BEIJING — China's detention of a professor who has been an outspoken advocate for Uighurs occurs amid signs of an increased security push in the minority group's western region and has drawn expressions of concern from the American government and rights activists.
Ilham Tohti's home in Beijing was ransacked on Wednesday afternoon by more than 20 police officers, who seized computers, telephones, credit cards and documents and took him into custody, his wife, Guzaili Nuer, said by phone on Friday. About 10 officers remained posted outside, she said, adding that she had no contact with Tohti for 48 hours and that authorities had refused to divulge his whereabouts.
Tohti, an economics professor at the Central University for Nationalities, has for years chronicled and commented on the often-tense relations between Uighurs, a Muslim minority concentrated in western China's Xinjiang region, and majority Han Chinese. He helps run a website, Uighur Biz, and posts frequently on Twitter and Chinese microblogs.
In recent days, several of Tohti's students were strip-searched, questioned and detained as well, according to a statement posted on the Twitter feed of Uighur Biz.
Tohti has been under increasing pressure since October, when a car driven by three Uighurs mowed down two tourists near Beijing's Tiananmen Square and then burst into flames in front of the Forbidden City. The government has labeled the incident a terrorist act.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday that Tohti was suspected of committing crimes but did not offer details.
On Thursday, Xinjiang officials reiterated their vow to crack down on terrorism and said the region was doubling its anti-terrorism budget this year.
“We must constantly strike hard against violent terrorism, showing no mercy,” Nur Bekri, chairman of the regional government, said in comments reported by the People's Daily newspaper.
“The government is determined to curb the spread of religious extremism as well as prevent severe violent terrorist attacks and mass incidents from happening.”
Tohti's detention comes as Chinese leaders seem to be taking a firmer stance against activists pressing a variety of causes.
On Wednesday, Xu Zhiyong, founder of the New Citizens Movement, who has campaigned against corruption and for greater civil rights, will go on trial on charges of illegally organizing demonstrations, his lawyer told Reuters on Friday. He was arrested last summer.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that holding Tohti was “part of a disturbing pattern of arrests and detentions of public interest lawyers, Internet activists, journalists, religious leaders and others who peacefully challenge official Chinese policies and actions.”