Uyghur Scholar Faces Medical Care Restriction

Chinese authorities have barred outspoken ethnic Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti from receiving medical treatment at a facility of his choice after he complained of heart problems triggered by daily interrogations by the police.

Ilham Tohti, who has been under 24-hour surveillance at his home in Beijing since he was prevented from leaving China for the U.S. last month, told RFA’s Uyghur Service on Tuesday that his minders had chosen a hospital outside the city for his treatment.

He said he was allowed to visit the hospital at the Central Nationalities University, where he is a professor of economics, last Wednesday.

Doctors there told him he needed to visit a more extensive facility for further tests and treatment, and he planned go to a larger hospital in Beijing.

But public security officials told his wife they would find a hospital for him and have selected a small facility outside the city, one that is no better than the university hospital, he said.

“I don’t want to go there. I want to find a hospital on my own,” he said, adding that his wife was concerned for his safety if he left the city.

Ilham Tohti is a vocal critic of the Chinese government’s treatment of ethnic Uyghurs, whose homeland is in the northwestern Xinjiang region and who complain of discrimination by the country’s majority Han Chinese.

He has spoken out for better implementation of China’s regional autonomy laws in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.

Barred at the airport

On Feb. 2, he was detained at the Beijing airport and prevented from taking a flight to the United States to take up a post as a visiting scholar at Indiana University.

Since then, a police car and plainclothes security personnel have been stationed outside his home around the clock and security officials are questioning him daily, he said.

The long grillings have left him exhausted and having problems with his heart, he has said.

He also said on Tuesday that he was concerned that a beating he received on the chest by a security officer at the Beijing airport could have affected his health.

“I remember when I was in the airport, one PSB [Public Security Bureau] officer, whose name is Ehtem, hit my chest, and questioned me again and again,” he said, explaining that he did not think much about the beating at the time because he was focused on concern for his daughter.

His daughter, who was to have accompanied him to Indiana, was also interrogated at the airport and eventually permitted to take a U.S.-bound flight.

Following Beijing's refusal to allow him to leave the country, unknown hackers attacked his website, which is hosted overseas and discusses Uyghur social issues and news from Xinjiang, briefly shutting it down.

Chinese authorities have also harassed Ilham Tohti's student Atikem Rozi, according to the professor, with police taking her on Feb. 5 from her home in Toksu county in Xinjiang’s Aksu district and questioning her for four to five hours.

Police have told him during questioning that he is on a blacklist of people barred from leaving the country, he said on Tuesday.

The outspoken professor, who has called for the implementation of regional autonomy laws in Xinjiang, has been detained several times before, and he and his family have faced a number of restrictions in Beijing since July 2009 when deadly ethnic violence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese rocked the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.

Ahead of the 18th National Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in October last year, he was taken away from Beijing to the Xinjiang region.

National People’s Congress

His current detention comes as China’s top leaders gather for the National People’s Congress, which opened Tuesday in Beijing.

Ilham Tohti said that he is concerned about how little representation Uyghurs have in the Chinese government.

He said he counted a total of 25 ethnic Uyghurs represented in the Congress, including two delegates from the military and the rest from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), for a total that is lower than those of China’s other ethnic minorities such as Mongols and Tibetans.

“I have scrutinized the list [of delegates to the NPC], and they are not those elected by the people, and they actually do not have the popular mandate,” Ilham Tohti said in an article posted on the Uighur Biz website Monday.

“These Uyghur representatives are those appointed internally by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region through the administration controlled by the [Communist Party] secretary.”

“They are people the leaders trust. They generally don’t put forward any proposals that the leaders or regional government have not controlled or thought of.”

He added that Uyghurs face numerous difficulties in the face of Han Chinese domination in Xinjiang.

“It is difficult for Uyghurs to enter the political and social systems that are monopolized and dominated by Han Chinese,” Ilham Tohti said in the article.

“Add this to the above-mentioned regime, and it becomes very hard for Uyghurs to make their voices heard.”

Reported by Mihray Abdilim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.