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China rejects Uighur scholar's appeal against life sentence

22 november 2014, 11:48

 A Chinese court on Friday rejected an appeal against a life sentence handed to a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as a 70-year-old journalist stood trial in a deepening crackdown on dissent, AFP reports.

Rights groups have decried both cases as an effort to silence critics of the ruling Communist Party, which in recent years has stepped up a campaign against activists, lawyers, academics and journalists who fail to toe the party line.

Ilham Tohti, 45, had been an outspoken critic of China's policies towards the Uighur minority in their homeland of Xinjiang, which has been hit by a wave of violence which the government blames on separatist groups.

Rights groups say discrimination and government repression of the Uighurs' religion and language has fuelled violence, which has claimed more than 200 lives in the past year.

Tohti's life sentence in September was one of the harshest verdicts handed down to a government critic in decades, prompting an outcry from human rights groups as well as the US and European Union.

Tohti's lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan told AFP that authorities in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi rejected his appeal, and that the scholar -- who has been kept in leg-irons for months -- had pronounced the verdict "unjust".

"He maintains that his behaviour has not endangered state security," Liu said. "He is upholding his point of view. Anti-violence and anti-separatism have been his beliefs all along."

China's case against Tohti was in part based on recordings of university lectures in which he said that Xinjiang "firstly belonged to the Uighur ethnic group," rather than China's Han majority, state-run media reported.

Since coming to power in 2012, China's President Xi Jinping has overseen a campaign against government critics with hundreds detained or jailed.

They include prominent legal expert Xu Zhiyong, who was jailed for four years in January, and celebrated human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was detained in May and has not been released.

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