Who is Ilham Tohti?

Ilham Tohti (Uighur: ئىلھام توختى‎, ULY: Ilham Toxti; Chinese:伊力哈木•土赫提; pinyin: Yīlìhāmù•Tǔhètí) (b. October 25, 1969) is an ethnic-Uighur Chinese economist based in Beijing. He is known for his research on Uighur-Han relations and is a vocal advocate for the implementation of regional autonomy laws in China, and was the host of Uighur Online, a website that discusses Uighur issues. Tohti was detained shortly after the July 2009 Ürümqi riots by the authorities because of his criticism of the Chinese government’s policies toward Uighurs in Xinjiang. He was later released.


Tohti was born in Artux, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on October 25, 1969,[1] the son of Mahmud Tiernan Tohti (b. January 25, 1937 in Artux, Xinjiang) and Burhanduxt Meryem Ehlin Tohti (b. October 11, 1941 in Bole, Xinjiang). He graduated from the Northeast Normal University and the Economics School at what was then called the Central Nationalities University, now named Minzu University of China, in Beijing.[1]

In 2006 Tohti founded a website called, Uighur Online, which published articles in Chinese and Uighur in order to promote a greater understanding between Han Chinese and ethnic Uighurs.[1][2] Radio Free Asia called his blog “a moderate, intellectual Web site addressing social issues.”[1] In mid-2008 authorities shut down the website.[2] On several occasions authorities have closed the site.[1] In March 2009 in an interview with Radio Free Asia Tohti criticized the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang.[2] He specifically criticized the policy of encouraging Han Chinese migrants to relocated to Xinjiang, claiming that it exacerbated the unemployment problem among ethnic Uighurs in the province.[2] Tohti claimed that while doing research for the Chinese government in the 1990s, he discovered that in Xinjiang there were 1.5 million unemployed workers, out of a population of less than 20 million.[3] In addition, he singled out the governor of Xinjiang, Nur Bekri, for criticism, calling him “unqualified” and stating that “I don’t know how he became governor of Xinjiang, and I don’t recognize him as a qualified governor.”[2] Tohti also called for the full implementation of China’s 1984 Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.[1]

That same month, Tohti was detained by authorities and repeatedly interrogated.[1] He said that during the interrogations authorities accused him of separatism.[1] In a May 2009 interview with Radio Free Asia’s Uighur service Tohti stated that “…in terms of freedom and democracy, Xinjiang’s situation is the worst of the worst, compared with other regions of China. What I have encountered at this time is typical. My Web site was shut down without notice. I was interrogated many times and threatened. I am a legal Beijing resident, and by law I should not be interrogated by Xinjiang police officials, but it has happened. This shows how long the local authorities’ reach is. They accused me of separatism … But is demanding implementation of the autonomy law separatism?”

Detention and release

On July 5, 2009 ethnic rioting took place between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese in Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The government reported that more than 150 people were killed during the clashes.[1] On July 6 Uighur Online was cited in a speech by Governor Bekri as a catalyst for the violence because it had helped instigate the rioting by spreading rumors.[1][3] On July 6 Tohti told Radio Free Asia’s Cantonese service that he had gathered information about the riots but that he would not release it because the timing was too sensitive.[1][4] On July 7 Tohti reported that police had been watching his home and had called him.[1] Tohti’s last blog entry published on July 7, and now blocked in China, read:

As the editor of Uighur Online, I want only to tell Nur Bekri, ‘You are right, everything you say is right, because you will decide everything. I have already offended too many powerful people, including yourself and others whom I don’t want to and don’t dare to offend. But right or wrong, there will be justice. I always tell myself [to be] cool and calm and make rational analyses. Going to court to resolve disputes is the fairest course of action in a lawful society. I have my own lawyer. When my trial comes up, don’t appoint a lawyer for me. I will refuse any court-appointed lawyer. Even if we say that Uighur Online and outsiders stirred thing up—stirred what up? People can think for themselves. If everything were working so well, why did so many people suddenly come out and riot? I think after this event the central government and the local government should give this some thought.[1]

On July 8, 2009, Radio Free Asia reported that Tohti’s whereabouts were unknown after he had been summoned from his home in Beijing.[1] On July 14, 2009, international news agencies reported that Chinese author Wang Lixiong and his wife Woeser, a noted Tibetan activist, had started an on-line petition calling for Tohti’s release.[4][5] The text of the petition stated that “Professor Ilham is a Uighur intellectual who is well known for his commitment to creating a bridge of inter-ethnic friendship and to resolving conflict. He should not be treated as a criminal.”[6] Within a day the petition had attracted more than 250 signatories, many of them Han Chinese and members of Chinese ethnic minority groups,[4] including Ran Yunfei, a well-known magazine editor and blogger who is of Monguor ethnicity.[3] On July 12 Chinese journalist Huang Zhangjin (黄章晋) wrote a blog entitled “Good-Bye Ilham” that condemned Tohti’s detention.[7] On the same day Wang and Woeser started their petition, PEN American Center issued an appeal to Chinese President Hu Jintao “to express serious concern regarding the detention of Uighur writer, academic, and PEN member Ilham Tohti.”[8] On July 20 Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal calling for Tohti’s release.[9] On August 7 Reporters Without Borders released a report stating that the organization was very worried by the absence of information on Tohti.[10]

Tohti was released from detention on August 23. He has since been released.[11] The international press reported that the release of Tohti and two other Chinese dissidents, Xu Zhiyong and Zhuang Lu, was due in part to pressure on Beijing from the administration of American President Barack Obama.[12][13] After his release Tohti gave a telephone interview to Radio Free Asia.[14][15] In this interview Tohti revealed that he had been confined to his home and a hotel and that he had been in the constant companionship of several police officers.[14][15] While he noted that the police had been “courteous” and “civilized”, he criticized his detention as “illegal” because he had not been charged with any wrongdoing.[14][15] He stated that after his release from detention the police warned him against speaking out against the government’s handling of riots in Xinjiang or else he could “soon be sentenced—be sentenced to death, be ‘dealt with’.”[14][15]

In a further phone interview in February 2011, Tohti stated that a travel ban aimed at preventing him from leaving Beijing had been extended to his family members; this disrupted his daughter’s plans to study in the United States. Tohti ended the interview after five minutes, stating that “Right now someone is with me. I have a lot of things to tell you, but I’m looking at his face and he is very angry.”


^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o “Outspoken Economist Presumed Detained”. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved July 12, 2009.
^ a b c d e “Uighur Scholar Calls for Jobs”. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved July 15, 2009.
^ a b c Wong, Edward (July 15, 2009). “Intellectuals Call for Release of Uighur Economist”. New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
^ a b c “Uighur Scholar’s Release Sought”. Radio Free Asia. 2009. Retrieved July 15, 2009.
^ “Chinese intellectuals call for release of Uighur”. Associated Press. July 14, 2009.
^ “Petition for Ilham Tohti under detention presented by Wang Lixiong”. Boxun News. 2009. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
^ Huang Zhangjin (2009). “再见,伊力哈木”. Bullogger.com. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
^ “PEN Appeal: Ilham Tohti”. PEN American Center. 2009. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
^ “Ilham Tohti”. Amnesty International. 2009. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
^ “A month without word of detained blogger Ilham Tohti”. Reporters Without Borders. 2009. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
^ Wines, Michael (23 August 2009). “Without Explanation, China Releases 3 Activists”. The New York Times. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
^ John Garnaut (August 25, 2009). “Obama behind release of Chinese activists”. Melbourne: The Age. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
^ Gady Epstein (August 24, 2009). “China’s Welcome Gift for Obama?”. Forbes. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
^ a b c d “Uighur Economist Freed, Warned”. Radio Free Asia. 2009. Retrieved August 31, 2009.
^ a b c d “RFA专访:伊力哈木•土赫提透露被软禁经历”. Radio Free Asia. 2009. Retrieved August 31, 2009.
^ “Travel Ban Extends to Family”. Radio Free Asia. 2011-02-10. Retrieved 2011-02-17.



Scholar criticized the Chinese Communist Party’s “suppression-only” policy in Xinjiang

Last week two violent clashes broke out in Turpan and
Hotan, Xinjiang province.
After that, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) politburo
standing committee member Yu Zhengsheng and secretary
of Politics and Law Commission Meng Jianzhu went there
to command the “stability maintenance battle” in person.
This indicates a tougher attitude of the Party toward
Xinjiang’s ethnic issue.
Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur scholar at Minzu University of China
in Beijing, warned that CCP suppression will only result in
stronger resistance from the Uyghur people.
Tohti called on the CCP leaders to change its policy to
avoid antagonizing the whole ethnic group.

July 5th is the 4th anniversary of the July Ürümqi Riots in 2009.

Every year around this time, the CCP sends out many armed
police and armored vehicles to tighten its control over Xinjiang.
According to some human rights organization, the Internet
of many governmental agencies had been cut off.
Mobile phones of governmental employees also stopped
sending or receiving messages.
At Ürümqi’s Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar, armed
police with firearms, shields and helmets patrol the streets.

The Xinjiang Armed Police Force also held a drill with
thousands of police and hundreds of vehicles.
In the meantime, the provincial public security department
issued an order for collecting knives from local residents.
It also offered awards for information of “suspicious
individuals” as part of a firmer crackdown.

Ilham Tohti, criticized the CCP for applying the coercion policy
in his home province and making conflicts among ethnic groups.

Tohti, a Uyghur, is famous for his courage of publicly
speaking out for Uyghur people’s rights.
On July 5th, He published an article on the website
Uyghur Online (uighurbiz.net).
Tohti wrote that: “I know our people very well.

This is a group with their own dream and strong feelings
of ethnic culture and historical tradition.
If given no respect, the Uyghur people may fight back in
every aspect in this open age of the Internet.”

The CCP defined the June clashes in Turpan
and Hotan as “terrorist incidents”.
As a rebuttal, Dilshat Reshit of the World Uyghur Congress

said the clashes were Uyghur peoples’ resistance
against the CCP’s coercion policy.

Political commentator Lan Shu remarked that,

the Uyghur people were suppressed by the CCP not only
in politics, but also in religion and ethnicity.
In such a situation, their resistance is certainly stronger
than that of other Han Chinese.

Lan Shu: ”If the CCP fails to crack down on the Uyghur people,
probably other Han Chinese will follow and resist in even larger scales.
This is why the CCP is so afraid. That’s why it sends out large
numbers of police and troops to the suppression.
At the same time, the propaganda department works hard
distorting conflicts between minority ethnic groups
and the CCP into a ‘sovereignty issue’.”

Lan Shu said, by describing Uyghur people’s requests
as a “sovereignty issue”,
and labeling their resistance as a “terrorist attack”,
the CCP tried to generate fights between ethnic groups.
Especially for Chinese who live in other places, they can easily hold
hostility against the Uyghur people without knowing the truth.

Beijing human rights activist Hu Jia said that, currently China’s
most important conflict is between the CCP and civilians.
This results from violent suppressions of the party
members against ordinary people.
This time the bloodshed clashes in Xinjiang happened
under an intensified control by the CCP police.
This indicated that more Uyghur people are becoming
willing to resist the party at the cost of their lives.

Hu Jia: ”Suppression may not lead to immediate resistance.
Sometimes people dare not to speak it out loud.
However, this does not mean that
there is no grudge in their minds.
If the current dictatorship regime continues in China
without any democratic progress,
we will only see more terror and violence in the future.

The suppression-only policy will only lead to worse ethnic
problems and more violent resistance.”

On July 5th, 2009, massive violent riots broke out in Ürümqi,
the capital city of the Xinjiang.
It was officially announced that 197 were killed and
1721 were injured during the clashes.
However, as the CCP immediately started a news
blackout after the incident.
The real number deaths remain unknown to the world.


学者批北京严管新疆 煽动族群不和




北京中央民族大学副教授伊力哈木.土赫提(Ilham Tohti)则批评北京当局在他的家乡新疆,实施严厉的高压措施,并且煽动族群不和。









采访/易如 编辑/黄亿美 后制/郭敬


Prof. Ilham Tohti: Beware of the Danger of Exaggerating the Xinjiang Independence Issue

Prof. Ilham Tohti: Beware of the Danger of Exaggerating the Xinjiang Independence Issue

[Translation of a summary of a Radio France International Chinese service interview with Prof. Ilham Tohti on the Radio France International website at http://www.rfi.fr/actucn/articles/111/article_12553.asp ]

Why did three Uighurs immolate themselves near Tianamen? How should we understand the “Xinjiang independence issue”? What are the differences between the Tibet issue and the Xinjiang issue? Should the 17 Uighurs imprisoned at Guantanamo be returned to China or should they remain abroad? The famous Uighur intellectual and head of Uighur Online, Assistant Professor Ilham Tohti of the Central

Don’t Allow a Small Group Be Used to Stereotype an Entire Nationality

On the Xinjiang independence issue, Ilham Tohti believes that the Uighur independence movement certainly exists, but it is outside of China. he doesn’t believe that a Xinjiang independence or East Turkmenistan movement exists openly in Xinjiang today. The Xinjiang independence movement is not as powerful as Westerners think. The issue perhaps arose because the Xinjiang local government exaggerated it.

Riots do occur in Xinjiang, Ilham Tohti says, but there are also riots in interior China. Some riots in Xinjiang have nothing to do with politics. These are being exaggerated. In China there are some violent incidents involving individuals and groups that sometimes develop into riots. Whenever these occur in Xinjiang, however, as long as Uighur are involved, it is just assumed that they are connected to Xinjiang independence and that they were fomented by forces outside of mainland China and so “outside agitators” are held responsible for them. This actually makes relations worse, and damages trust, and creates tensions among the nationalities in Xinjiang, and expands the size of the target that is to be suppressed. If the violent tendencies or independence activities of a small group are imputed to an entire nationality, this is in fact no different from what the East Turkistan organization does as a small group claiming to speak for all the Uighur. This is very dangerous and is harmful to China. Ilham Tohti believes that the strengthening of the legal system and democratization are powerful trends. China’s leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao over and over that China needs reforms and that government administration should operate according to the rule of law. Local government, however, in some areas goes to extremes.

The Future of the Uighurs is in China

Ilham Tohti said without any hesitation that China is the homeland of the Uighur and the future of the Uihgurs is in China. If you have chosen your future to be in China, then you must uphold the territorial integrity of the country. He believes that some people say that China is getting more and more democratic, and that later it will be possible for Uighur to seize their independence. This is impossible. Moreover, some people believe that independence can be achieved through violence or the power of western countries. This is also impossible.

Let the Seventeen Uighurs in Guantanamo Stay Outside of China

The problem of the 17 Uighurs imprisoned at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo has once again arisen. The case of these Uighur is very special. The U.S. justice system investigated and found that they are guilty of no terrorist crimes. However, for fear that they would be tortured if they were to be returned to China. However they in no way constitute a threat to China since they have never been involved in terrorist activities. So they should be allowed to stay. This is a problem created by the United States and so the United States should take responsibility for it.

Ilham Tohti is concerned “If these people return to China, it could cause nationality problems within China. This is a sensitive issue. If they were to be executed, it would not only make it an international problem but the Uighur would definitely be unhappy about it and could cause a nationality problem. Therefore, I believe from a humanitarian perspective and from a Chinese domestic perspective, they should stay outside of mainland China.

“If You Meet a Uighur, Dial 911”

Recently three Uighur immolated themselves near Tiananmen. Ilham Tohti began consideration of this issue by discussing the situation of Uighur living in Beijing. There are many Uighur in Beijing. Some come to present petitions to the central government redress grievances. Some are peasants who can’t speak Chinese and have never been to Beijing before. Since they are Uighur, most hotels won’t accept them. “We made a study just before the Beijing Olympics. Some authority issued an urgent notice that said: “What do you do if you meet a Uighur? Dial 911”

The causes of all this, says Ilham Tohti, is that the rights of the Uighur nationality have certainly been infringed upon and that local government in Xinjiang has exaggerated the threat from the East Turkistan independence organization. Moreover, most Han people have never met a Uighur in their entire lives so they don’t understand them. Although there are 8 million Han people living in Xinjiang, they are in a very special situation. One third of them are in the military construction corps (bingtuan). Many are government or Party cadres. Some others work for energy companies that employ almost no Uighur. Most factory works and labor intensive industries also employ few Uighur. Therefore, the Han in Xinjiang really don’t understand the Uighur. What people in Beijing know about Uighur comes only from exaggerated propaganda put out by the government or connected to their feelings about the migrant worker population. “Now it seems like the Uighur in the old days who were good at singing and dancing are not to be found. The memory of the humor of Afanti, they have forgotten. Now the Uighur are terrorists, thieves and roving bands of juvenile delinquents.” Thus the image that society at large has of the Uighur is highly distorted.

The Han Nationality Bears the Major Responsibility that the Nationalities Understand One Other

How can the Uighur, other nationalities and the Han come to understand each other better? How can the culture, religion and language of the Uighur and other minority nationalities be better protected? How can the Uighur, other nationalities and the Han come to understand each other better? How can the culture, religion and language of the Uighur and other minority nationalities be better protected?

Ilham Tohti says that present laws are very good, but need to be better and the law needs to be implemented. The Han nationality population is very large and has historically had a strong ideology of unification that makes it hard for them to understand other nationalities. The Han nationality needs to understand, that there exist other nationalities beside yourselves in this country. The Han nationality, to speak bluntly, is the nationality in charge in China. They have the responsibility to run this country well and they have the responsibility to understand other nationalities. They need to give them opportunities. Whatever he thinks, you need to make the effort to communicate. True representatives of the various nationalities should participate in devising some policies. Some research studies should be jointly conducted by Han nationality scholars and Uighur nationality scholars. Some fields should be opened up to research. For example in the Xinjiang region there are no “ethnic studies” etc. This kind of research is in fact prohibited. Although there are no written rules prohibiting this kind of research, there are many unwritten rules.

Ilham Tohti said that many people don’t understand the real situation in Xinjiang, including many Chinese scholars. Some of the so-called scholars researching Xinjiang participate in some government decision-making. But they don’t understand Xinjiang and they can’t speak Uighur. Some scholars in order to curry favor with leaders, make up a conclusion and they make a survey report to support it. One example is a research group studying the Uighur nationality concluded that the Uighur identify more strongly with China than do the Han nationality. Therefore, they need to first understand a nationality before they can create the correct policy.

Listen to the interview for more details.

[Click on the box labeled “Citizen’s Square” Gongmin Guangchang just below the Chinese text to hear the Radio France International Chinese language service March 2009 interview with Professor Ilham Tohti at http://www.rfi.fr/actucn/articles/111/article_12553.asp ]



Posted on 2011/05/26 by gaodawei


作者 安德烈

发表日期 07/03/2009 更新日期 11/03/2009 00:38 TU






















Call for Letters on Behalf of Ilham Tohti of China

From: Scholars at Risk Network
Re: Call for Letters on Behalf of Professor Ilham Tohti of China
Date: February 12, 2013

Scholars at Risk is concerned over public reports that Professor Ilham Tohti, a public intellectual and economics professor from China, was denied permission to leave China to take up a position as a Visiting Scholar at Indiana University in the United States.

SAR asks for letters, faxes and emails respectfully urging the appropriate authorities to inquire into the matter and explain publicly the circumstances of any restrictions on Professor Tohti’s travel or, if there are no official restrictions, to expedite approval of any pending or future travel requests.

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of over 300 universities and colleges in 34 countries dedicated to promoting academic freedom and its constituent freedoms of thought, opinion, expression, association and travel. In cases involving alleged infringement of these freedoms, SAR intervenes hoping to clarify and resolve matters favorably.


Professor Tohti is a professor at the Central Minorities University in Beijing, and he was invited by Indiana University to take up a one-year position as a Visiting Scholar. Scholars at Risk understands that Professor Tohti and his daughter attempted to depart for the United States on February 2nd but were prevented from boarding an outbound plane from Beijing Capital International Airport. Reports indicate that Professor Tohti and his daughter were going through airport security checks when they were stopped by police. Furthermore, SAR understands that Professor Tohti and his daughter were held in separate interrogation rooms, and while Professor Tohti’s daughter was permitted to depart for the United States on a later flight, Professor Tohti was held in custody for 10 hours, before being sent back to his apartment without explanation.

Free exchange of ideas is one of the most basic human rights and values of all academic communities. Freedom of travel is one of the most important avenues for furthering such exchange among academic colleagues. Recognizing this, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory, protects freedom of expression, right to travel and scientific exchange. Public reports that Professor Tohti was denied permission to travel to take up a position at Indiana University suggest that these rights have not been respected. Therefore, in the absence of any clearly legitimate, publicly expressed grounds for doing so, the apparent restricting of Professor Tohti’s travel suggests serious concerns not only about his ability to engage with colleagues in his field, but also about intimidation of intellectuals generally in China and about the ability to conduct world-class scholarship in such an environment. These are suggestions SAR finds particularly distressing given both China’s rich intellectual history and the important role that China and Chinese universities and scholars in particular should play in the development of knowledge, research and scholarship in the 21st century.

Scholars at Risk therefore respectfully urges the appropriate authorities to investigate the situation and to explain publicly the circumstances of any restrictions on Professor Tohti’s travel or, if there are no official restrictions, to expedite approval of any pending or future travel requests.

Take Action

Scholars at Risk invites letters, emails and faxes be sent:

– respectfully urging the appropriate authorities to investigate the situation;

– respectfully urging the appropriate authorities to explain publicly the circumstances of any restrictions on Professor Tohti’s travel; or, if there are no official restrictions, to expedite approval of any pending or future travel requests.


President Hu Jintao
The State Council General Office
2 Fuyoujie
Beijingshi 100017
People’s Republic of China


H.E. Mr. Yang Jiechi
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China
No. 2, Chaoyangmen Nandajie, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 100701

The Honorable _________
Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to [YOUR COUNTRY]
(See http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjb/zwjg for a list of Chinese embassies worldwide.)

The Honorable _________
Ambassador of [YOUR COUNTRY] to the People’s Republic of China

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
United States of America
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520 USA

Scholars at Risk
New York University
194 Mercer Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10012, USA
Email: scholarsatrisk@nyu.edu

Fax: +1 212-995-4402




Ng Tze-wei 南华早报(South China Morning Post)


在去年七月乌鲁木齐爆发骚乱时被逮捕之后,居住在北京的维吾尔学者伊力哈木·土赫提(Ilham Tohti)才被大多数人知晓。他创办的关注新疆问题的中文网站“维吾尔在线”(uighurbiz.cn)也因“煽动言论和散布谣言”而遭到当局的抨击。





























伊力哈木认为,对维吾尔人的非法管制和普遍缺乏了解是导致民族生活处境困难和 “7·5”的关键原因。伊力哈木说他有很多汉族朋友,可是绝大多数汉人对维吾尔人持双重态度,这很大程度上是由政府错误的政策以及媒体自相矛盾的描绘造成的。












伊力哈木的学生,21岁的穆塔力浦·伊明(Mutellip Imin)受到老师的鼓舞,决定在研究生阶段学习社会学。“如果没有人做此事,就不得不由我们自己来做。但是我知道这不是一条平坦的路”穆塔力浦说。

来源:维吾尔在线 (http://uighurbiz.net/bbs/viewthread.php?tid=230248&extra=page%3D1) _(博讯自由发稿区发稿) (博讯 boxun.com)


Uyghur Scholar Takes Aim at College Graduation Ban

Updated at 2:20 p.m. EST on 2013-11-27

A top ethnic minority Uyghur scholar and activist has hit out at moves to ban college students in China’s troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang from graduating unless they pass a test of political views, saying that the policy is “dangerous” and “ridiculous.”

“The Xinjiang authorities are in the process of doing something very dangerous,” Uyghur university professor Ilham Tohti, a vocal critic of China’s policies toward ethnic minority Uyghurs, said in response to official media reports from a regional education conference.

“The way they carry out their anti-splittism campaigns is always less intelligent in Xinjiang than it is in other places,” he said.

“It’s insulting, blatant and draws attention to itself.”

Top regional education officials said this week that their institutions were the frontline in a “life and death struggle” for the people’s hearts, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper in the region, the Xinjiang Daily, reported on Tuesday.

Any students seeking graduation from the region’s colleges will be held back unless they pass a political test which renounces “ethnic splittism,” the paper quoted top officials as saying.

The policy was announced at a regional education conference that set out to make universities and colleges “a main battle front for anti-splittism,” it said.

“Higher education schools should first ensure that the talent they produce have passed in politics, so that they can defend ethnic unity down to the last letter, and oppose ethnic divisions,” the paper quoted Li Zhongyao, Party secretary of Xinjiang University, as telling the conference.

‘Worrying news’

Xinjiang, which came under Chinese control following two short-lived East Turkestan Republics in the 1930s and 1940s, has seen a string of violent incidents in recent years as Beijing tightens security measures and extends house-to-house raids targeting Uyghur families.

Xu Yuanzhi, Party secretary of Kashgar Normal University, vowed to work to oppose “political extremism” there, following the incidents involving mostly Muslim Uyghurs, who chafe under Chinese rule, and police.

“Those students who don’t pass politics, however good they are in their specialist subject, should not be allowed to graduate,” Xu said.

Tohti said the new restrictions showed that Beijing is following a mistaken policy in the restive region.

“In the Internet age, the Chinese authorities’ policy of trying to control ideology and public expression to achieve stability is quite ridiculous,” Tohti said.

Henryk Szadziewski, senior researcher with the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, said the move was “worrying news.”

“This is a step backwards for Uyghur students in higher education,” Szadziewski told RFA’s Mandarin Service. “Uyghurs are already in a difficult situation, educationally, because all higher education must be carried out in Chinese.”

“Clearly this move is aimed at controlling ideology and scholarship in universities, but the most worrying thing is that students in higher education in Xinjiang will have to be very careful indeed now if they wish to get a degree certificate,” he said.

‘Form of terror’

Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination and oppressive religious controls under Beijing’s policies.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), said university authorities in the region were also stepping up surveillance of students, encouraging them to report each other for holding the wrong political views.

But he said it was hard to see how the situation could get worse as a result of the policy.

“Even those students who do pass politics, and who do get a degree certificate, won’t be able to get a job when they do graduate,” Raxit said.

“This means that this move by the universities is just a form of terror aimed at political opinion,” he said. “Uyghur students understand this very well.”

He said China’s policies of surveillance and political pressure in Xinjiang would only serve to strengthen the backlash against Beijing in the region.

Terrorism claims

China blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for an Oct. 28 attack, when a vehicle plowed through bystanders on Tiananmen Square in Beijing and burst into flames, killing three people in the car and two bystanders.

However, a different Islamist militant group has claimed responsibility for the incident.

Many Uyghurs refer to Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the former Soviet Central Asian republics, as East Turkestan.

ETIM seeks independence for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and is designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United Nations.

Reported by Xi Wang for RFA’s Mandarin Service and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.