Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Jailed Uyghur student has Todai on his side

Jailed Uyghur student has Todai on his side


Tohti Tunyaz

Tsugitaka Sato, a University of Tokyo (Todai) professor emeritus, is determined to see one of his students freed from an 11-year term in a Chinese prison for inciting unrest.

Sato traveled to the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region in western China in late July to campaign for the release of Tohti Tunyaz, 46, a Uyghur who was a student of Sato's in Japan until 1998, when he was arrested on a visit home.

Authorities say he was involved in the Xinjiang region independence movement.

Sato, 63, an expert on Islamic regions, spent about a week in the capital of Urumqi, petitioning officials on Tohti's behalf.

It was Sato's fourth visit to Urumqi since the arrest.

"I was unable to see him. But it is important to show to the Chinese authorities that we are still greatly concerned about this," said Sato.

Tohti entered the University of Tokyo's graduate school in 1995. He traveled home to Xinjiang Uyghur three years later to look for historical documents to support his thesis about China's policies toward the country's ethnic minorities.

He was arrested a few weeks after arriving there.

Chinese authorities alleged that Tohti planned to publish a book that would encourage the Xinjiang independence movement. His trial took two years.

In 2000, he was found guilty of inciting national disunity and sentenced to 11 years in prison by the Supreme Court.

Since then, the University of Tokyo has continued to lobby for his release. Successive presidents of the university have written letters to Chinese leaders to ask for Tohti's release.

"Tohti was critical of the independence movement. He did not plan to publish a book. His arrest is based on misunderstandings," the letters state.

When Sato retired three years ago, the university appointed another professor as Tohti's adviser, listing the imprisoned student as "temporarily absent" in its student rolls.

"The university is renewing his record every year so that whenever he is released, he can resume his studies. We are not going to forget this incident," Sato said.(IHT/Asahi: August 30,2006)

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