Speaking on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 23 September, Christoph Strässer, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement on the verdict against Uighur professor Ilham Tohti:
I am appalled by today’s verdict against Ilham Tohti. We know Professor Tohti as an advocate of dialogue who campaigns for understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese. Nevertheless, he was sentenced today to life in prison for alleged separatist activities. For months he was denied access to a lawyer of his choice, and neither his lawyer nor his family were informed about his impending trial. This does not comply with Chinese law.
I also find it regrettable that China refused to grant German and EU trial observers access to the court hearing. We hope that it will be possible to review the verdict in fair appeal proceedings.
The harsh verdict against Ilham Tohti is particularly regrettable, as it contradicts endeavours to uphold human rights and the rule of law in China. The series of arrests of a large number of Chinese professors, journalists, lawyers and other individuals damages China’s international reputation and undermines the Chinese people’s trust in their legal system.
Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison on 23 September. He was a professor of economics at the renowned Minzu University of China in Beijing, where he conducted research on the Uighurs’ economic and social situation. In 2006, he set up a website to improve understanding between Han Chinese and Uighurs. Following his arrest on 15 January 2014, he was taken to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in western China. On 30 July 2014, charges of separatism and incitement to racial hatred were brought against him.