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Uyghur blogger freed after six weeks but kept under close watch

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that llham Tohti, a Uyghur blogger who called for dialogue between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, was allowed to return to his Beijing home on 22 August 2009 after being held incommunicado for six weeks. But the authorities are continuing to keep him under close surveillance.

Tohti, an economics professor at Beijing's Central Minorities University and editor of the website, had been missing since his arrest on 8 July, three days after rioting in the western province of Xinjiang, which has an ethnic Uyghur majority. Almost 400 people had signed a petition for his release.

"Although we welcome the fact that Ilham Tohti has been allowed to return home, we continue to be very worried by the lack of any official explanation about his detention and or about the charges he may still be facing," Reporters Without Borders said. "Tohti's freedom is still relative as he said in an interview that he continues to be watched by a security guard posted at his home."

In an interview conducted on 24 August for Radio Free Asia, Tohti said he had been "followed by secret police agents 90 per cent of the time since May 2008."

He also revealed that, after his arrest last month, he was first placed under house arrest and then taken to a Beijing hotel where he was held incommunicado. He said that he was not subjected to physical violence but that his detention was "entirely illegal" as the police never produced an arrest warrant.

The Invisible Tibet website of Tibetan blogger Woeser and Wang Lixiong posted a petition for his release on 12 July. Relayed by Reporters Without Borders (see petition:, it was signed by 397 people from 30 countries.

Pressed to explain his disappearance, the Chinese authorities referred at one point to his "possible departure on vacation." Since his release, the government has not offered any explanation for his detention.

Tohti does not know whether he will be allowed to continue working as a university professor or whether charges will be pressed against him. He told a Radio Free Asia journalist: "The police threatened me after my return home, saying I could possibly face the death penalty."
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