AFTER a two-day trial last week, Ilham Tohti, a scholar who has spoken critically of China’s policies toward people of his Uighur ethnicity, was sentenced on September 23rd to life in prison for separatism. Many Western powers ‘outraged’ after China convicts him. Why does the Chinese authority punish him with such a heavy sentence? 长平， Chang Ping, a commentator and critic wrote an article that explains this well. The following is my translation of Chang Ping’s article (in Chinese).
When the Independence Referendum in Scotland is just finished, while democratic states respect civil rights, and solve area conflicts in a peaceful and rational way and gain praise from the people, Uyghur Scholar, the former Minsu University of China professor Ilham Tohti, is sentenced to life sentence for separatism and with confiscation of his total personal assets. At this moment, the world politics is divided clearly into two parts: the light and the dark.
This sentence is so ridiculous that Ilham himself has been publicly opposing separatism. He said, “I have always been supporting the national unity, opposing separatism. I have never thought about separating our country, I have never participated in any separatism activity, I have especially never coordinated any so-called separatism organization.” He stated on the Uyhgur Online, a website established by him, that “Opposing posting any purporting independence, separatism, and irresponsible inflammable speech, opposing any post that aims to subvert the state.”
This reminds us that Dalai Lama has long been promoting a middle way, and not the independence of Tibet. However the central propaganda mechanism has insisted that he is “saying this and doing that”, promoting non-violence and non-independence on face, but carrying violence and separatism activities in reality.
Indeed some people are not always act consistently or act as they say, however being political figures, religious leaders and well-known scholars, their public opinion and speech, is an action, and the source of their influence. According to the media reports, the charge of Ilham by the authority is mainly based on his public speech and published articles. The evidence shall only be decided according to the meaning of his publication and acknowledgement. To ignore his “explicit opinion” but presume his motive and punish him, is very absurd in law.
Why the Chinese Communist Party authority insists Ilham’s anti-separatism as separatism, and Dalai Lama’s non-independence as “fussing for independence”? It is because the labels of “separatism” and “independence assertion” are needed by them. The long-time ideology propaganda has made “the unity of the nation” a “holy and non-violable” principle, and “separating country” as serious crime. Moreover, similar to “subverting state power”, and “picking quarrels and causing trouble”, it has been used as a useful tool to repress dissidents. It is proposed that there should be a distinction between “separatism” and “independence”, since the policy of Chinese Communist Party is de facto ethnic separatism. But in the Chinese Criminal Law, these two concepts are almost the same.
To assert independence becomes separatist is to be punished, the real self-governing autonomy is also evil-minded separatism, even activities to make people understand the truth and beneficial to ethnic integration is also treacherous separatist activity. This is the reason why websites such as Uyghur Online are not allowed to exist- the aim of the website is to “let people of all ethnics and the world understand Xinjiang, Uyghur, and let Xinjiang people of different ethnic groups understand the world, to promote the mutual understanding and dialogue of different ethnic groups.”
No enemy, but to create enemy, this is a ruling strategy, because enemies can promote unity and integrate people’s mind. If the enemy is really serious, the rulers can also practice the policy of “wartime curfew”. To the Chinese people who have been influenced by strengthening nationalism propaganda, crimes of “state separatism”, “Taiwan independence”, “HK independence”, “Tibet independence”, as well as “Xinjiang independence” are rather useful. In addition, according to scholar WANG Lixiong’s analysis, within the government system, many government employees are eating “separatism meal”, thus to find and create “separatism” is their work.