On February 2, Professor Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur scholar of economics at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, was prevented by authorities from traveling to the United States to take up a Visiting Scholar position at Indiana University.
According to reports, Professor Tohti and his daughter were detained at Beijing Capital International Airport while going through airport security checks. They were held in separate interrogation rooms, and while Professor Tohti’s daughter was permitted to depart for the United States on a later flight, he was held in custody for 10 hours, before being sent back to his apartment without explanation.
It is reported that since this incident, Professor Tohti has been repeatedly interrogated by police and is being held under a 24-hour watch at his home. Professor Tohti reports experiencing heart problems as a result of the repeated interrogations, and has allegedly been denied access to the medical facilities of his choice. As reported previously, in October 2012, Professor Tohti was forced to leave Beijing for the duration of the National Congress of the Communist Party, to ensure he would not “stir up trouble.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about apparent restriction on a scholar’s mobility based on the content of his work. State authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and not to interfere with scholar’s responsible research, teaching, publication and other expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly.