Uighur scholar in China to appeal life sentence

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Uighur scholar in China to appeal life sentence
FILE- In this Dec. 1, 2009 file photo, economist Ilham Tohti, from China's predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region speaks to students at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, China. The outspoken Chinese minority scholar who has been detained since mid-January 2014 was indicted Wednesday, July 30, 2014 on separatism charges amid a renewed flare-up of bloody anti-government violence in the country's far west. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel, File)
In this photo taken Nov. 6, 2009, economist Ilham Tohti, a 40-year-old professor from China's predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region, gives a speech to students at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, China. Popular on campus, articulate and moderate, he could be a valuable asset for China in its campaign to win Uighur hearts and minds, but officials have instead pushed him further away in the wake of the deadly July 5 riots in Xinjiang, accusing him of inciting the violence and lumping him together with alleged overseas separatists. (AP Photo/Alexa Olesen)
University professor, blogger, and member of the Muslim Uighur minority, Ilham Tohti chats with students following his lecture in a classroom in Beijing on June 12, 2010. Perhaps the top Uighur activist within China, Tohti disappeared into police custody for six weeks last year after Uighur resentment burst forth last July in China's northwest Xinjiang province, in Central Asia, when Uighur rioters savagely attacked Han Chinese in the regional capital Urumqi, leaving nearly 200 people dead and up to 1,700 injured, according to official figures. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Feb. 4, 2013 photo, Ilham Tohti, an outspoken scholar of China's Uighur minority, pauses during an interview at his home in Beijing, China. A Chinese court on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 imposed a harsh life sentence on Ilham Tohti, who championed the country's Uighur minority, the most severe penalty in a decade for anyone in China convicted of illegal political speech. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
University professor, blogger, and member of the Muslim Uighur minority, Ilham Tohti pauses before a classroom lecture in Beijing on June 12, 2010. Perhaps the top Uighur activist within China, Tohti disappeared into police custody for six weeks last year after Uighur resentment burst forth last July in China's northwest Xinjiang province, in Central Asia, when Uighur rioters savagely attacked Han Chinese in the regional capital Urumqi, leaving nearly 200 people dead and up to 1,700 injured, according to official figures. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Feb. 4, 2013 photo, Ilham Tohti, an outspoken scholar of China's Turkic Uighur ethnic minority, pauses during an interview at his home in Beijing, China. Tohti was set to go on trial on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 on separatism charges in the country's far western region of Xinjiang. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this photo taken Nov. 6, 2009, economist Ilham Tohti, left in the background, a 40-year-old professor from China's predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region, gives a speech to students at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, China. Popular on campus, articulate and moderate, he could be a valuable asset for China in its campaign to win Uighur hearts and minds, but officials have instead pushed him further away in the wake of the deadly July 5, 2009, riots in Xinjiang, accusing him of inciting the violence and lumping him together with alleged overseas separatists. (AP Photo/Alexa Olesen)
Jewher Ilham, daughter of Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur academic who was recently arrested by China, testifies at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 8, 2014. Ilham told US lawmakers that her father's arrest sent a message China will not tolerate even peaceful expression of grievances by the minority group. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) - A prominent scholar who championed China's Uighur minority plans to appeal his conviction and life sentence, citing what he calls his improper detention and the authorities' refusal to give his lawyers copies of evidence.

Ilham Tohti has denied prosecutors' charges that he encouraged separatism while speaking and writing about the discontent in his native western region of Xinjiang. A court in the regional capital of Urumqi sentenced him to life in prison on Tuesday and ordered the confiscation of his possessions.

One of Ilham Tohti's lawyers, Li Fangping, said his legal team had not decided yet when to submit the appeal. He said Ilham Tohti himself could do that from the court in Urumqi.

Li released the first page of the 15-page document Wednesday. It cited several legal issues, including what it said was the failure of police to tell Ilham Tohti why he was being detained and the extracting of testimony after he went without proper food in jail for weeks.

On Wednesday, Li also posted on his WeChat social media account messages that he said were from Ilham Tohti to his wife and family.

"My wife, for our children, you have to be strong, do not cry!" one message read. "In not too long, we will embrace."

Another message asked his family to tell his mother that he had received only a five-year sentence. One of his students, Pahati, was pounding the door and moaning in the next cell, the message said, and he had heard the sound of ankle cuffs, raising the possibility that the student too had been sentenced. Still, the message said Ilham Tohti had slept more soundly that night than he had in eight months, since he was arrested in January.

"I never realized I had such a strong heart," the message read.

Ilham Tohti's harsh sentence was the most severe in a decade handed down in China for illegal political speech and drew condemnation from the U.S. and the European Union.

President Barack Obama cited the scholar Tuesday among several people worldwide whom rights groups call political prisoners.

"They deserve to be free," Obama said. "They ought to be released."

When asked about the U.S. comments in a news briefing Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said some countries "made irresponsible remarks and brought up irrational requests in the name of so-called democracy and human rights, which were a harsh and unreasonable intervention over China's internal affairs and sovereignty."

She said China urged those countries to abandon "double standards and stop interfering in China's internal affairs."

The official Xinhua News Agency also criticized a Twitter message posted by Chinese writer Wang Lixiong that China had created in Ilham Tohti "a Uighur Mandela," referring to late South African leader Nelson Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years before becoming president.

Xinhua said the analogy "displays not only a dangerous ignorance of history, but also a challenge to China's determination to keep its 56 ethnic groups united."

Xinhua cited ethnic violence that has caused the deaths of both Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang. It said Ilham Tohti used his online writings "to encourage his fellow Uygurs to use violence," an accusation the scholar has denied in court and in interviews.

"Their accusations against the court's ruling came as the warplanes of the United States and its allies bomb the 'Islamic State' militants in their anti-terrorism war," the editorial read. "It is only because of Western countries' double-standards on terrorism that a criminal was hailed as a hero."

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AP videojournalist Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.

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