Lawyer: Uighur scholar in China gets life sentence

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Lawyer: Uighur scholar in China gets life sentence
Guzaili Nuer (C), wife of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, walks with two of Tohti's three brothers who refused to be named, as they make their way back to the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, prior to the scholar's trial resuming after a lunch break in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
CORRECTION: NAME OF LAWYER Guzaili Nuer (R), wife of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, takes a rest as lawyer Li Fangping (L) chats with one of Tohti's three brothers who refused to be named, outside the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, prior to the scholar's trial resuming after a lunch break in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
CORRECTION: NAME OF LAWYER Li Fangping, the lawyer for Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, talks to AFP outside the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, prior to the scholar's trial resuming after a lunch break in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
CORRECTION: NAME OF LAWYER Guzaili Nuer (L), wife of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, talks to the media as lawyer Li Fangping (R) walks by near the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, as the scholar's trial resumes after a lunchbreak in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
CORRECTION: NAME OF LAWYER Guzaili Nuer (L), wife of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, together with lawyer Li Fangping (R) make their way back to the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, as the scholar's trial resumes after a lunchbreak in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Guzaili Nuer, wife of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, makes her way back to the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, as the scholar's trial resumes after a lunchbreak in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Guzaili Nuer, wife of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, makes her way back to the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, as the scholar's trial resumes after a lunchbreak in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Guzaili Nuer, wife of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, makes her way back to the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, as the scholar's trial resumes after a lunchbreak in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Guzaili Nuer, wife of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, makes her way back to the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, as the scholar's trial resumes after a lunchbreak in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Foreign diplomats from countries including Germany, Britain and Canada who had travelled to observe the proceedings of the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, gather outside after they were barred from entering the Urumqi Intermediate People's court in Urumqi on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Chinese policeman tries to control the crowd waiting to be allowed to enter the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, west China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Two Uighur women wait after they were disallowed entry to the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, west China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Foreign diplomats from countries including Germany, Britain and Canada who had travelled to observe the proceedings of the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, gather outside after they were barred from entering the Urumqi Intermediate People's court in Urumqi on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Foreign diplomats from countries including Germany, Britain and Canada who had travelled to observe the proceedings of the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, chat with a Chinese court official (C) after they were barred from entering the Urumqi Intermediate People's court in Urumqi on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police ask a group of people who were denied entry to the Urumqi Intermediate People's court, to leave as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, west China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police make their way out from the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, west China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police make their way out from the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, west China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police screen people who want to enter the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, west China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police seal off the road leading to the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, west China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police seal off the road leading to the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police put up screens to block the view as they seal off the road leading to the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police put up screens to block the view as they seal off the road leading to the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese police seal off the road leading to the Urumqi Intermediate People's court as the trial of Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at a university in Beijing, begins in Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 17, 2014. Chinese authorities imposed tight security in Urumqi Wednesday for the separatism trial of a prominent scholar from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, as critics warned the prosecution will worsen tensions in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO / GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A pedestrian walks past anti-terror propaganda posters pasted along the streets of Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 16, 2014. Ilham Tohti, a former university professor from China's mostly-Muslim Uighur minority is facing a life sentence for separatism, as critics warn the prosecution will worsen in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk past anti-terror propaganda posters pasted along the streets of Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on September 16, 2014. Ilham Tohti, a former university professor from China's mostly-Muslim Uighur minority is facing a life sentence for separatism, as critics warn the prosecution will worsen in violence-wracked Xinjiang. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese court imposed a life sentence Tuesday on a moderate scholar who championed the country's Uighur minority, the most severe penalty in a decade for anyone in China convicted of illegal political speech.

The Urumqi People's Intermediate Court handed down the sentence after convicting Ilham Tohti of separatism in a two-day trial, lawyer Li Fangping said by telephone from outside the courthouse. The court didn't answer calls seeking information about the trial.

Li said the court also ordered the confiscation of all of Ilham Tohti's possessions.

The 44-year-old defendant was calm during the session but shouted "I don't accept this!" when the sentence was read, Li said.

He is known as a moderate voice with ties to both the country's Han Chinese establishment and the Muslim Uighur ethnic group, which has long complained of harsh treatment by the government in the far western Xinjiang region. A Communist Party member and professor at Beijing's Minzu University, Ilham Tohti ran a website, Uighur Online, that highlighted issues affecting the ethnic group. Chinese authorities detained the scholar in January along with seven of his students.

"Of course, this life sentence is too much," Li said. "But he has said that no matter what the result, this should not lead to hatred. He has always said he wants to create a dialogue with the Han Chinese."

The life sentence will leave Ilham Tohti's wife, Guzulnur, with no means to take care of their two young children, Li said.

The court ruled that Ilham Tohti had "bewitched and coerced" students into working for the website and had "built a criminal syndicate," according to the government's official Xinhua News Agency.

"Tohti organized this group to write, edit, translate and reprint articles seeking Xinjiang's separation from China," Xinhua said. "Through online instigation, Tohti encouraged his fellow Uygurs to use violence."

During the trial, prosecutors cited Ilham Tohti's lectures and online writings, including his discussion of the different roots of the Han Chinese and Uighur peoples. Speaking in his own defense Thursday, Iham Tohti denied that he had encouraged separatism while addressing Xinjiang's cultural and legal challenges, Li said.

The European Union condemned the sentence, calling it "completely unjustified," and urged that he be released immediately.

"The EU deplores that the due process of law was not respected, in particular with regard to the right to a proper defense," it said in a statement. After his arrest, Ilham Tohti was held for about eight months without being able to meet with his family or lawyers.

Human rights activists said the harsh sentence demonstrated the government's intolerance of criticism from even the most conciliatory of voices. Political activist Wang Bingzhang was the last person to receive a life sentence for political speech when he was convicted in 2003 after starting a pro-democracy publication outside China and founding two opposition parties in the country.

"Ilham Tohti worked to peacefully build bridges between ethnic communities and for that he has been punished through politically motivated charges," William Nee, a China researcher at human rights group Amnesty International, said in an emailed statement. "Tohti is a prisoner of conscience and the Chinese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release him."

Chinese writer Wang Lixiong said on Twitter that the government had created a "Chinese Mandela," referring to South African leader Nelson Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years before becoming president. Columbia University Tibet specialist Robert Barnett called the sentence "deeply shocking."

Tensions have run high and flared into violence in Xinjiang, where many of China's Uighurs live. Authorities said several explosions killed two people on Sunday in central Xinjiang but did not say who carried out the attacks.

In May, 43 people died when Uighur militants plowed two vehicles through a market street in the regional capital of Urumqi and hurled explosives, police said.

Ilham Tohti's 20-year-old daughter, Jewher Ilham, said Tuesday in Indiana, where she is studying, that she will continue to fight for her father's release. Her father was arrested in January 2013 at Beijing's main airport as he was boarding a plane to take her to school in the United States.

"He wanted me to stay in a land that has freedom," she said. "I'm speaking out for him. I won't stop."

___

Associated Press writer Didi Tang and video journalists Isolda Morillo and Helene Franchineau contributed to this report.

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