A court in northern China has sentenced an ethnic Uighur academic to life in prison for promoting separatism in the nation’s restive Xinjiang province, his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.
Ilham Tohti, a prominent advocate for the rights for Muslim Uighurs in China, and an ex-economics professor at the Minzu University of China in Beijing, received the near maximum sentence for the charges, which carried possible sentences ranging from 10 years in prison to execution, Reuters says.
International human-rights advocates had widely decried the separatism allegations against Tohti. Outside China, he is seen as a thoughtful, peaceful and moderate voice who has challenged China’s official narrative of several violent incidents in Xinjiang.
The stiff sentence — the harshest one in years for a Chinese political dissident — appears to be part of Beijing’s aggressive intensification of its campaign to put a lid on brimming discontent in Xinjiang. Clashes between Han Chinese, the nation’s majority group, and Uighurs, an ethnic minority making up about half of Xinjiang’s population, have led to hundreds of deaths in the vast, northwestern region.
Human-rights observers say the Chinese government’s discrimination against Uighurs is to blame for the sometimes violent boiling over of anger in the region.