the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Statement by the Press Secretary on the Conviction and Sentencing of Ilham Tohti

The United States is deeply concerned by today’s sentencing of prominent Uighur Ilham Tohti to life imprisonment on charges of separatism.  He is a respected professor who has long championed efforts to bridge differences between Uighurs and Han Chinese.  We believe that civil society leaders like Ilham Tohti play a vital role in reducing the sources of inter-ethnic tension in China, and should not be persecuted for peacefully expressing their views. 

We call for Chinese authorities to release Professor Tohti, as well as his students who remain in detention, and to guarantee them the protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China’s international human rights commitments and its own constitution.  We stress the importance of Chinese authorities differentiating between peaceful dissent and violent extremism.

The American people and government commend China’s social and economic progress over the past three decades and value good relations with the Chinese people and government.  At the same time, the United States will always speak out in support of universal rights, including the freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.  These basic freedoms – which are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the Chinese Constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – are ones the United States champions around the world.