Ilham Tohti's hand written application from his prison disputing the closed-door proceedings.

Timeline of Ilham Tohti’s Case

Late 2005

Living in Beijing and teaching at Beijing’s Minzu University of China, Ilham Tohti establishes “Uighur Online,” a website published in Chinese and Uighur “to provide Uighurs and Hans with a platform for discussion and exchange.” The website serves as a platform for Uighur social and cultural issues, as well as Chinese policies in Xinjiang. Authorities periodically shut the website down.


May 15

Uighur Online is permanently shut down by the government.


March 06

In his interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA), Tohti criticizes Chinese policies in Xinjiang. He questions the central government’s policy of encouraging Han people to move to Xinjiang where the unemployment rate among Uighurs remained high. Tohti also refers to the then-governor of Xinjiang as “unqualified.”

March 26

Tohti is interrogated by the police, who tell him not to speak to the media again.

July 07

Tohti goes missing after the July 5th violence in Urumqi. Tohti is later found to have been detained by Chinese authorities for posting materials on his website that they allege “stirred up” the ethnic clashes.


July 25

Manager of Uighur Online, Gheyrat Niyaz, was sentenced to 15 years for “endangering state security”.


January 17

Ilham Tohti publishes an article, “My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen”《我的理想和事业选择之路》, explaining that his reason for launching the website was to promote “mutual understanding as well as dialogue among ethnic communities.” Tohti writes that the website contained no “pro-independence, separatist, or irresponsible inflammatory postings” nor “anything subversive.”


Beijing’s Minzu University of China cancels Tohti’s class on economic development, immigration, and discrimination in Xinjiang.



Tohti is interrogated for 10 hours after speaking to journalists and publishing an article on Uighur Online about Chinese armed forces monitoring Uighurs during Ramadan.


Tohti is held under house arrest ahead of the Chinese leadership change during the 18th Party Congress.


February 02

Chinese authorities detain Tohti and his daughter at the Beijing Capital International Airport. After questioning, Tohti’s daughter is allowed to board their intended flight to the United States, while Tohti is forced to remain in Beijing.

November 04

Plainclothes policemen rams Tohti’s car while he was travelling with his wife and children, threatening to kill his family and warned him against speaking to foreign media.


January 15

Police of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and the Beijing municipality raid Tohti’s Beijing home and detain him. According to Tohti’s wife, Guzailai Nu'er, more than two dozen officers took part in the raid, taking computers and cellphones, among other items, from their house.

January 16

spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry says Tohti has been subjected to criminal detention for “committing crimes and violating the law.”

January 17

Sina Weibo begins censoring searches for Tohti’s name.

January 25

The Urumqi Bureau of Public Security posts accusations against Tohti on its microblog, accusing Tohti of inciting violence against the Chinese authorities and recruiting people to join a group plotting separatist activities. According to the post, Uighur Online had “made rumors, distorted and hyped up issues,” “spread separatist ideas,” “incited ethnic hatred,” “advocated Xinjiang independence,” and is behind “separatist activities.”

February 07

Radio Free Asia releases Tohti’s statement dated July 24, 2013, which he had requested to be made public if he was detained by the authorities.


Authorities detain a number of Uighurs who had either been Tohti’s students or volunteers to Uighur Online. On February 27, Tohti’s wife Guzailai Nu'er tells Radio Free Asia (RFA) that authorities have notified family members of the arrests of three of his students: Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Tursun, and Abdukeyum Ablimit.

According to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, students and volunteers who were detained in relation to Uighur Online include the following:

1. Perhat Halmurat

2. Shohret Tursun

3. Abduqeyyum Ablimit

4. Mutellip Imin

5. Atikem Rozi

6. Abdumejid Jelil

7. Meryemgul

8. Perhat Ablet

9. Atilamu

10. Dilshat

February 20

Tohti's wife, Guzailai Nu'er, says she received a formal arrest notice of Tohti on charges of “separatism.”

April 01

Tohti is awarded the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, an award given to writers who demonstrate courage in defending freedom of expression in the face of repression.

June 30

Five months after Tohti was detained in Beijing and transferred to Urumqi, Tohti’s two lawyers are allowed to visit him for the first time in Urumqi. They report that Tohti repeated his innocence and emphasized that he has never supported separatism.

July 30

Tohti is officially indicted with “separatism.”

US State Department spokesperson voices concern about Ilham Tohti and calls for his release; the Chinese government urges the US government not to interfere with its sovereignty.

August 03

Lawyers visit Tohti again in Urumqi; he describes being ill-treated in detention, including having been shackled at his feet for a month.

September 07

Pretrial hearing for Tohti begins; he is allowed to attend.

September 12

After receiving a phone call from court officials, Tohti’s lawyers announce that he will stand trial on separatism charges at the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court on September 17, at 10.30 a.m.

September 17

Trial of Ilham Tohti on charges of separatism begins at Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court in Urumqi, capital of XUAR. Foreign reporters and diplomats are not allowed into the court.

November 21

At a sentencing hearing held inside the detention center in which Ilham Tohti was detained, the Xinjiang High People’s Court upholds his initial conviction to life imprisonment for “separatism.” Tohti's appeal was marred by repeated procedural violations, including the failure to hold the appeal in public and to notify his lawyers in time. In a written application written from his prison Tohti had earlier disputed the closed-door proceedings.