Updated: May 1, 2019
According to Radio Free Asia, the family of jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti is facing extreme hardship and increasing isolation as his wife struggles to raise her young sons in Beijing. Guzelnur has been left with scant income to care for her children while her husband serves a life sentence for "separatism."
"Sometimes I get financial help from friends or relatives, but they've got their own kids too, and their own expenses to meet," she said in an interview. "I make 3,500 yuan ($US 540) a month, and the nursery fees for my youngest are 1,200 yuan a month, while it costs 300 yuan a month for my eldest just to eat lunch in school."
Guzelnur said she has asked Tibetan poet and writer Woeser for help when things get tough.
When asked if she visits her husband, Guzelnur said, "There is nobody to take care of the kids." However, she said the family has plans to travel back to the region during the summer holidays.
Beijing-based rights activist and family friend Hu Jia said Guzelnur has also become socially isolated since Tohti's incarceration, as many of the couple's former friends have withdrawn contact for fear of political reprisals.
"Guzelnur," he says, "and the two kids have been living a very lonely life in Beijing since Ilham Tohti was detained."
Biography of Ilham Tohti
Ilham Tohti, former professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, was sentenced to life in prison following his conviction of “separatism” by the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court in Xinjiang on September 23, 2014.
Tohti is currently serving the longest sentence handed down to a political prisoner in China.
Uyghurs and members of other non-Han Chinese groups in Xinjiang face huge barriers to applying for passports, and those who already hold them have been ordered in some regions to hand them into police stations. China has been keen to portray its Uyghur population as potential terrorists after a wave of violent incidents hit the region following a crackdown on deadly ethnic riots in Urumqi in July 2009. Many Uyghurs try to leave China illegally, saying they are fleeing systematic persecution by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which then puts strong diplomatic pressure on neighboring countries to return the fugitives to China rather than treating them as refugees.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide joins the effort to call on the international community to show more concern and support for Uyghur minorities, as well as for Tohti, his family, and the hardships they face.