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Uighur PEN member barred from travel outside China

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - New York City, April 20, 2010 - For the second time this spring, the Chinese government has prevented a member of PEN, the worldwide association of writers, from participating in a public program in Europe, a move PEN American Center today denounced as "an unfortunate attempt to control critical speech inside and outside of China."

Economist, writer, and Uighur PEN Member Ilham Tohti planned to appear at an international conference on Turkic culture at Ege University in Izmir, Turkey this week. On April 15, two days before he was scheduled to land in Turkey, police reportedly arrived at his home in Beijing and warned him against making the trip. Tohti had obtained a Turkish visa and permission to attend the conference from Central Nationalities University in Beijing, where he is an associate professor of economics.

Tohti, who owns the blog Uighur Online, which publishes articles about social issues in both Chinese and Uighur, is known for his critical views of Chinese government policy and the provincial leadership in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and had been detained on four occasions for his peaceful activities. Most recently, he was arrested in Beijing on July 7, 2009, after speaking out on the ethnic unrest that broke out in Urumqi, the XUAR provincial capital, two days earlier. He was initially held under house arrest before being transferred to an unknown location where he was held incommunicado for interrogation. He was released without charge on August 22, 2009.

The restrictions on Ilham Tohti mirror a similar ban imposed on writer and Independent Chinese PEN Center Member Liao Yiwu in March. Liao had defied warnings not to honor a commitment to appear at a literary festival in Cologne and boarded a flight for Germany, only to be removed from the plane and confined to his home city of Chengdu.

"Preventing Ilham Tohti from traveling to an international conference for which he was an invited guest violates his fundamental rights to freedom of expression and movement under Chinese and international law, said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. "But it also abridges the rights of his Turkish and international colleagues to hear from him and engage with him face to face. We are deeply disturbed by the Chinese government's actions, which have the appearance of attempting to suppress critical speech not only at home but abroad as well. We urge the Chinese government to lift all restrictions on Tohti, as well as all PEN members and writers throughout China, in accordance with their obligations under international law and its own constitution."

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