BEIJING: A prominent academic from China’s mostly-Muslim Uighur minority was jailed for life on Tuesday for “separatism”, with the European Union expressing outrage at the “completely unjustified “response to criticism of Beijing’s policies in the restive Xinjiang region.

The EU, United States and human rights groups had all been calling for the release of Ilham Tohti, a persistent but moderate government critic who campaigned for minority rights in the vast western region.

Analysts say his unusually harsh sentence shows increased official intolerance for dissent and could stoke ethnic tensions.

The former university professor will “certainly appeal” the sentence passed in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, his lawyer Li Fangping said.

Tohti, 44, said he “did not agree” with the sentence as it was announced but was not allowed to make any further statement before officials led him away, Li said, adding that the court will “confiscate his entire property”.

Tohti’s wife cried loudly after the verdict was read and “was so upset she couldn’t walk,” he added.

Xinjiang is home to about 10 million Uighurs, and in the last year has been hit by a string of attacks on civilians and clashes which have killed at least 200 people.

China blames unrest on militant groups seeking independence for Xinjiang.

Rights groups say discrimination and government repression of the Uighurs’ religion and language has fuelled violence.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014


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