Source, Radio Free Asia, 2016-02-18
Authorities in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang region have given the go-ahead for relatives of jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti permission to visit him in prison, where he is held in a cell on his own and has access to daily necessities and reading matter, his wife said.
“[His brother] is getting ready to visit him in Urumqi,” Tohti’s wife Guzelnur told RFA ahead of the scheduled visit on Thursday.
“This will be the third [family] visit.”
Guzelnur, who has been left with very little income to care for the couple’s young sons in Beijing, said she is currently feeling unwell, and was unable to make the trip to Xinjiang for the visit.
“He will go this time, and maybe next time it’ll be me who goes,” she said. “His parents are sick, so they can’t go.”
The former professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing was sentenced to life in prison following his conviction on a charge of “separatism” by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court in Xinjiang on Sept. 23, 2014.
Guzelnur said her husband is being held in a cell on his own in Urumqi’s No. 1 Prison, and is receiving medical check-ups every two weeks.
He spends most of him time reading books, she said.
She said there are stringent restrictions surrounding such family visits, however, which are limited to one every three months, and to 30 minutes per visit.
She said she is unwilling to take the couple’s children too often, however.
“We’ll go once a year,” she said. “Otherwise, the kids just get so upset when they have just visited their father.”
“When we came back from the last visit last September, they were feeling very low, and they missed their father the whole time,” she said.
Family scraping by
Guzelnur said in a later interview on Thursday that she had been unable to confirm if the visit had gone ahead, however.
“I couldn’t get through to them yesterday, so I don’t know if they even went; I will try to speak with them again,” she said.
Guzelnur said she is currently trying to keep herself and the children on an income of just 3,500 yuan (U.S.$537) a month.
“They stopped paying me his salary the month after his trial … so all I have is my 3,500 a month,” Guzelnur said. “The kids’ uncle also helps out, and my close friends help us too.”
“The cost of living is so high in Beijing; everything is so expensive,” she said, adding that it has been hard for her sons to experience a normal family life since their father was detained.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, a close friend of the family, said he is very concerned about Tohti’s family.
“Things are very difficult for Guzelnur right now, because she has to run the whole household by herself,” Hu said. “It’s very hard for them to scrape by.”
“The three of them are dependent on other people to live right now,” Hu said. “One of the kids is in kindergarten and the other is in year 3 of primary school.”
“Ilham was particularly concerned about their education, apart from the family’s safety, of course,” he said.
Chinese authorities sometimes deliberately disrupt the schooling of the children of prominent dissidents as a form of official retaliation for their “crimes.”
Some veteran dissidents have sent their children overseas so as to ensure they receive a decent education away from official interference in their lives, which can include travel bans and periods under house arrest along with their parents.