China jailed Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti for life on Tuesday for separatism, a decision that provoked strong criticism from Western governments and human rights groups. The White House said it was "deeply concerned" by the decision, adding that Tohti should not have been punished for peacefully expressing his views. President Obama cited Tohti among those around the world who had been imprisoned for their beliefs, and said the United States stands "in solidarity with those detained."
In response, China's Foreign Ministry criticized "finger-pointing" and "rude and unreasonable interference in China's internal affairs and judicial sovereignty," saying it had lodged "solemn representation" with relevant countries, according to spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
On Wednesday, Tohti released a statement through his lawyer, Li Fangpin, who posted it on social media sites. In it, Tohti makes reference to being kept in leg irons for much of his confinement, and mentions Pahati, one of seven students who have also been arrested for helping him run a Web site that aimed to promote a better understanding of the western region of Xinjiang. A full translation follows:
"I'm speaking up for my people, and moreover, I'm speaking up for China's future. Before I got in here, I was concerned that I might not be able to take it. I was worried that I might sell out my own conscience, my career, my friends and family. But I pulled through.
I have no experience with the kind of prison life that's waiting ahead. But it is going to be my life, my experience. I don't know how long my life will last. But I am brave. I won't be that vulnerable. Should there be any news of me harming or killing myself, it must be false information.
After reading the verdict, I believe I should shoulder even more responsibilities. Although I'm gone, I still look forward to the sunshine and to the future. I believe firmly that China will be better and that the rights of Uighur people as written in the Constitution will be respected.
Peace is heaven's gift to both Uighur and Han people. Only through peace and benevolence can we create shared interests.
I am in leg irons 24 hours a day. For eight months, I was only let out of my cell to exercise for three hours. I have six Han cell-mates who are already sentenced. It's rough, but compared with my students, and many of my fellow Uighur people charged with separatism, I am no doubt lucky, because I have my own Han lawyers to defend me in court, my family members were allowed to attend the hearings, and I was able to speak my mind. I hope my case can push for the rule of law in Xinjiang, even if just a little.
Last night I was able to have my best sleep in over eight months. I never realized how strong my heart could be. But my elderly mother must not know about this. Tell my family to tell her I was sentenced to five years. Last night, I heard Pahati kicking the door and singing loudly in the cell next to mine. I also heard the sound of leg irons. Perhaps they (the seven students) were sentenced too.
(To his wife) My love, for our children, be strong. Don't cry. In the near future, we will again embrace each other. Take care! Love Ilham."
For a list of Chinese dissidents who have been imprisoned in China or live in exile abroad, see the gallery below.