Police have arrested an outspoken Uighur academic and raided his home, seizing computers, cellphones and even his students’ thesis manuscripts, his wife said yesterday.
About 30 police officers raided economics professor Ilham Tohti’s home in Beijing in a six-hour operation on Wednesday afternoon after taking away the academic, his wife Guzaili Nuer said in a telephone interview.
It was the most serious of recent actions by Chinese authorities in apparent retaliation against Tohti, who is arguably the most famous mainland-based critic of the Chinese Communist Party’s restrictive policies in Xinjiang in western China.
China has tightened control over the restive region, which has been rocked by a series of riots and attacks on police and other symbols of Chinese power over the past year. State media reported earlier this month that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has ordered authorities to refocus their efforts on “maintaining social stability” in Xinjiang.
Guzaili Nuer said that Tohti and his two sons were at home while she was at work when police arrived. She rushed home, but her husband had already been taken away.
Beijing police did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said at a regular briefing that Tohti “is suspected of violating the law and committing a crime” and that police have placed him under criminal detention.
Calls to Tohiti’s mobile phone failed to connect. The overseas-based Web site he runs, Uighurbiz.net, was also down.
Tohti has been barred from traveling and placed under house arrest numerous times in the wake of deadly ethnic rioting in the capital of the Uighur ethnic homeland of Xinjiang in 2009 that sparked a nationwide crackdown on Uighur activists.
He has not joined calls for Xinjiang’s independence, but his outspokenness on problems with China’s ethnic policies has made him a target of security forces.
He has criticized the authoritarian government’s heavy-handed handling of recent unrest, saying China’s stifling security presence, widespread discrimination and restrictions on religious and social practices have fanned ethnic discord in Xinjiang.
“The Uighur people have become outsiders in the development of their own homeland and survival,” Tohti wrote in a post on his mobile social media account on Wednesday morning. “It is here that the people’s anger begins to grow. Uighur people need an avenue to express their aspirations and protect their rights.”