The following is a partial translation of the "Ilham Tohti Separatism Case" as it appears in Volume 119 of the "Reference to Criminal Trial" [刑事审判参考] published by the Supreme People's Court of the People's Republic of China. The Chinese version was created by scanning in the relevant pages, and may contain errors due to inaccuracies in the OCR process.
A. BASICS OF THE CASE
Defendant Ilham Tohti, male, Uyghur, born October 25, 1968. Arrested February 20, 2014.
The People's Procuratorate of Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region charged defendant Ilham Tohti with the crime of separatism and filed a public prosecution with the Intermediate People’s Court of Urumqi.
Defendant Ilham Tohti and his defense counsel argued that Ilham Tohti did not have the intention to split the country, the alleged separatist criminal syndicate did not exist, and Ilham Tohti's remarks were criticisms of the government and were academic opinions.
The Intermediate People’s Court of Urumqi found through a public trial that in January 2006, defendant Ilham Tohti created the "Uyghur Online" website in Beijing and served as its webmaster. In July 2008, Ilham Tohti established the Beijing Tulan Online Consulting Co., Ltd. and served as its legal representative. The "Uyghur Online" website was a web portal under the company's control. After that, Ilham Tohti used the "Uyghur Online" website as a platform and used his position as a lecturer at the Central University for Nationalities to confuse, entice, and coerce some ethnic minority students to join the website, and positioned himself as the leader of the separatist criminal syndicate. Under the leadership of Ilham Tohti, the criminal syndicate organized, planned, and implemented a series of criminal activities to split the country with the purpose of dividing the country.
1. For a long time defendant Ilham Tohti used his position as a lecturer at the Central University for Nationalities to spread the idea of ethnic division through lectures, slandering and attacking China's Xinjiang-related policies, and inciting the use of violence against the government.
2. For a long time defendant Ilham Tohti and member of his criminal syndicate used the "Uyghur Online" website as a platform to organize and conspire to write, edit, translate, and reprint articles with content that incited separatism. Ilham Tohti was responsible for the review and publication of articles on the "Uyghur Online" website, and he wrote or directly manipulated and instructed group members to write, translate, and reprint more than 100 inflammatory articles and publish them on the "Uyghur Online" website.
3. Since 2009, defendant Ilham Tohti called on members of his criminal syndicate to link up with foreign institutions and individuals involved in the Xinjiang issue. In order to achieve their goal of separatism they echoed each other and attacked the Chinese government in an attempt to internationalize the Xinjiang issue. In order to evade oversight, Ilham Tohti instructed others to move his "Uyghur Online" website server from China to somewhere abroad. He hyped up Xinjiang-related issues and high profile events by accepting interviews with overseas media. He instructed others to translate articles and reports from overseas media websites about the Chinese government's Xinjiang-related policies. At the same time, foreign media also used "Uyghur Online" articles, reports, news, and data to attack the Chinese government's Xinjiang-related policies and hype up Xinjiang-related issues.
4. Since 2009, defendant Ilham Tohti and members of the criminal syndicate have maliciously fabricated and distorted the truth, incited ethnic hatred, encouraged Uyghurs to confront the government, and sought to excuse violent terrorist activities. After "4.23" and other violent terrorist incidents occurred, Ilham Tohti instructed group members to write and reprint articles on the "Uyghur Online" website to distort the facts such as the cause of the violent terrorist incidents. On April 24, 2013, an ordinary case of assault among ethnic and Han students occurred at the Central University for Nationalities. After learning about the case, Ilham Tohti instructed the group members to distort the facts and wrote articles such as "A Group of Han Students Assaulted Uyghur Students at the Central University for Nationalities," maliciously creating ethnic tension.
5. Since 2010, defendant Ilham Tohti has fabricated social questionnaire survey reports without setting up a research team or distributing questionnaires and conducting interviews, and publicly published survey reports on the "Uyghur Online" website with false data, fabricating bogus public opinions supporting Xinjiang's independence and a "high degree of autonomy."
6. At the beginning of 2013, defendant Ilham Tohti arranged for members of the criminal syndicate to collect materials on the religious situation in Xinjiang, and he himself wrote the "Summary of Typical Cases of Deprivation and Violation of the Freedom of Religious Belief of Xinjiang Uyghur People," which libeled the Chinese government as engaging in long-term repressive suppression and restriction of religious freedom in Xinjiang, and infringing on legal religious rights. In order to internationalize the Xinjiang issue, in March of the same year, Ilham Tohti assigned members of the syndicate to go abroad to participate in international conferences, and submitted and promoted the "Summary of Typical Cases of Deprivation and Violation of the Freedom of Religious Belief of the Xinjiang Uyghur People," which aggressively attacked China's ethnic and religious policies.
7. After the "June 26" Shaoguan Incident in 2009, defendant Ilham Tohti used the Internet to hype the incident, and on the "Uyghur Online" website IlhamTohti published articles such as "The 6.26 Incident and the Myth of Multi-ethnic Harmonious Coexistence," attacking the government, distorting the truth, and inciting ethnic hatred. "Uyghur Online's" inflammatory articles and Ilham Tohti’s inflammatory remarks influenced Mai Doe, Ai Doe, and others to assemble illegal gatherings, and played a definite role in the occurrence of serious violent crimes such as beatings, smashings, looting, and burning during the "7.5" incident in Urumqi.
On September 23, 2014, the Intermediate People’s Court of Urumqi found defendant Ilham Tohti guilty of separatism in the (2014) Wu Intermediate Criminal First Instance No. 100 Criminal Judgment, and sentenced him to life imprisonment, deprivation of political rights for life, and confiscation of all personal property.
After the verdict in the case of first instance was announced, defendant Ilham Tohti did not accept it and filed an appeal.
The High People's Court of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region held a trial and rejected the appeal in the (2014) Xin Criminal First Intermediate Final No. 172 criminal ruling, upholding the original sentence, and on November 21, 2014, the verdict was sent to Ilham Tohti and the second-instance criminal ruling was served.
B. DECISION RATIONALE
Article 26(2) of the Criminal Law stipulates: "A criminal syndicate is a more or less permanent criminal organization composed of three or more persons for the purpose of jointly committing crimes." Ilham Tohti aimed to split the country and used the "Uyghur Online" website as a platform, and used his position as a university lecturer to confuse, entice, and coerce some ethnic minority students to join the website, gradually forming a relatively stable organization. The organization was headed by Ilham Tohti, with clear internal divisions and relatively stable core members. They engaged in separatist activities over an extended period of time, which complies with the criminal law's provisions on criminal syndicates.
According to Article 103(1) of the Criminal Law, the crime of separatism refers to the act of organizing, planning, and implementing the separation of the country and undermining national unity. In this case, Ilham Tohti organized and led a separatist criminal syndicate to spread ethnic separatist thoughts through lectures and the Internet, and attacked China's ethnic and religious policies. He connected with relevant overseas institutions and individuals in an attempt to internationalize the Xinjiang issue. He fabricated social questionnaire survey reports and forged bogus public opinions supporting Xinjiang’s independence and "high degree of autonomy." He used individual cases to spread rumors, create incidents, and incite ethnic hatred. He sought to excuse Xinjiang-related violent terrorist cases, expressed solidarity with and support for violence and terrorism, incited violence and ethnic hatred, and created ethnic opposition. Ilham Tohti possessed the subjective criminal intent to divide the country and undermine national unity. Objectively, he organized and led a criminal syndicate to plan and implement a series of criminal activities to divide the country. This conforms to the elements of the crime of separatism and constitutes the crime of separatism.
Freedom of speech is certainly a constitutional right, but freedom of speech is not absolute, and in any event it may not be abused. While China's Constitution grants citizens the freedom of speech and the right to criticize and petition to state agencies and their staff, it also stipulates that the exercise of rights and freedoms of citizens shall not harm the interests of the nation's social collective and the legitimate freedoms and rights of other citizens, and it stipulates that citizens have the obligation to maintain national unity and the unity of all nationalities in the country. For every citizen, maintaining the unity of the country is both a practical matter and the bottom line of the law. Defendant Ilham Tohti’s teaching content and online articles either used topics to create contradictions, or fabricated rumors to distort facts. This seriously affected ethnic unity and harmed the unity of the country. It went beyond the legitimate exercise of rights and the freedom of speech, divided the country in the name of speech and academic criticism, and must be resolutely punished in accordance with the law.
(Written by: Chen Xinjun, Second Criminal Court of the Supreme People's Court
Edited by: Wang Xiaodong, Second Criminal Court of the Supreme People's Court)