Remko Tanis • 26 October 2018

Ilham Tohti turned 49 yesterday. The Uighur Chinese economist and former professor at China Nationalities University (民族大学) in Beijing is currently serving a life sentence in prison, having been found guilty of promoting separatism.

Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, on high alert after deadly ethnic riots in 2009. (C) Remko Tanis

Tohti focused on the relationship between Han Chinese and the Uighur minority of Xinjiang, his native region in far northwestern China. He gave lectures on it and promoted businesses owned by Uighurs, as well as discussing other topics regarding this minority, through his website Uyghur Online.

I interviewed Tohti at his apartment in Beijing back in 2010, when he was just released from an earlier prison sentence. That piece is here.

Since 2010, things have taken a turn for the worse in Xinjiang. China has deployed detention camps in the region to essentially assimilate the islamic Uighur population. The United Nations estimates over a million Uighurs are being held in these camps.

Chinese soldiers in the streets of Urumqi, Xinjiang, after deadly ethnic riots in 2009. (C) Remko Tanis

Plenty of sources available about that, and more seem to appear daily bringing ever more dire and absurd reports on what is happening in Xinjiang - like this AFP piece describing how local governments there stock up on tear gas, electric cattle prods, handcuffs, pepper spray and police batons, likely for use in the ‘modern education facilities’, as Chinese state media dub the internment camps.

One stand out is this report by anthropologist Darren Byler, describing in detail a program through which the government has ordered ‘a million citizens to occupy Uighur homes’ to monitor and influence the behavior of the Uighur Chinese.

I reported from Xinjiang during the deadly ethnic riots happening there in 2009, and in 2010: