Urumqi (China): A scholar from China's Muslim Uighur minority community who often criticised the country's ethnic policies was set to go on trial today on separatism charges in the far western region of Xinjiang.
Ilham Tohti is a former economics professor in Beijing accused of activities aimed at overthrowing Chinese rule in Xinjiang. He has rejected the allegations.
His trial was set to open today morning at Urumqi People's Intermediate Court, but it was not immediately clear whether the proceedings were underway. Foreign journalists were not allowed inside, court officials announced no details and the court's telephone number rang unanswered.
Police formed a several-block perimeter around the venue with tape, keeping away journalists, bystanders and several Western diplomats who traveled to Urumqi in attempts to witness the trial.
European Union diplomat Raphael Droszewski said the EU had expressed its deep concern over the indictment of Tohti, noting that he had worked "peacefully with China's laws" and that the bloc has "urged China's government to release him and offer health care."
One of Tohti's lawyers, Li Fangping, said Tohti was shackled for more than a month while in lockup. Tohti's wife, Guzulnur, has said he was suffering health problems.
Authorities have blamed deadly unrest in Xinjiang on terrorists seeking a separate state, and have accused Tohti of fanning ethnic hatred and advocating independence.