China Condemned For Uighur Scholar's Life Sentence

China's sentencing of a moderate Uighur scholar to life in prison has drawn international condemnation and could ignite further Uighur conflict.

China Condemned For Uighur Scholar's Life Sentence
PEN American Center / CC BY 2.0

A Chinese court's decision to sentence Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti to life in prison has drawn international condemnation and stoked fears of more ethnic tension in his home region of Xinjiang.

Tohti is seen as a moderate voice in Xinjiang, a region characterized by conflict between the native Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese, which made the life sentence for separatism especially surprising to some. (Video via NTDTV)

DAMIAN GRAMMATICAS VIA BBC: "I think what's shocked many people is the severity of his sentence, life in prison, all his assets seized. ... Chinese human rights defenders call this persecution of someone trying to build bridges between ethnic groups here."

And the trial itself was kept tightly under wraps.

AL JAZEERA: "Police prevented foreign journalists and diplomats from entering." 

The sentence has already been condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and even the European Union. The United Nations has also called for his release in the past. 

And the U.S. has pressured China on Tohti in the past, with Tohti's last detainment ending just days after then-U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman took up his post there in 2009. (Video via The White House)

Analysts have pointed to the violence Xinjiang has seen over the past months as one possible reason for the heavy sentence.

CCTV: "Police say they shot 59 terrorists and arrested 215 others. Thirty-seven civilians were killed and another 13 injured." 

That attack in August was the bloodiest the region has seen, leaving close to 100 people dead in all. That followed another attack at a market in May in the region's capital that left 31 dead. (Video via NHK World)

And just this weekend, another bomb attack in Xinjiang left at least two people dead, two days before Tohti's verdict was announced. 

But many outlets have pointed out Tohti himself never came close to advocating violence, and despite criticizing the government's policies toward the Uighur people, also shied away from calling for independence. (Video via The Financial Times)

Now some analysts worry his imprisonment could lead to more violence. 

PROFESSOR SEAN ROBERTS VIA CNN: "I think silencing a voice like Tohti will only likely further radicalize the population in Xinjiang and give more salience to these militant groups."

There have been varying reports of how long exactly Tohti will be imprisoned, from 10-12 years to life. 

This video includes an image from â€‹PEN American Center / CC BY 2.0.