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Prominent Uighur professor barred from leaving China

February 02, 2013|By Barbara Demick

BEIJING -- The most prominent Uighur intellectual in China was blocked Saturday from leaving the country at Beijing international airport as he tried to board a flight for Chicago.

Ilham Tohti, 43,  a professor who teaches at the Central Minorities University in Beijing, was brought back to his home late Saturday after 10 hours in custody. His teenage daughter, who was traveling with him, was permitted to travel to the United States on a later flight.

According to Nury Turkel, a Washington lawyer, Tohti was on his way to take up a visiting scholar position at Indiana University, traveling on a temporary work-study visa.

“He had no plans to stay in the United States. He was a visiting scholar, the same as many Chinese professors,’’ Turkel said.

Considered a moderate by many activists, Tohti focused on the lack of economic opportunities for Uighurs, who have been shut out of the boom in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, where most live. His website has highlighted the difficulty of Uighurs and other minorities in obtaining passports and traveling outside of China.

He and his family have been frequently banned from traveling in the past, including his daughter, who had obtained a visa to study in the United States.

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