Beijing: The separatism trial of a prominent scholar from China`s mostly Muslim Uighur minority entered its second day Thursday, as rights groups renewed their calls for his release.
The charges against Ilham Tohti, a former economics professor at Beijing`s Central University for Nationalities, carry a maximum life sentence.
His trial in Urumqi, the capital of China`s violence-wracked western Xinjiang region, is expected to conclude Thursday, although the court is not likely to render a verdict until next week at the earliest, said Tohti`s lawyer, Li Fangping.
The Uighur homeland Xinjiang has seen escalating violence between locals and security forces in the past year, which has claimed hundreds of lives and prompted Beijing to launch a crackdown on "separatists" and "terrorists".
The United States, European Union, and several human rights groups have called for the release of Tohti, 44, an outspoken critic of China`s policies towards Uighurs in the far western region.
"China`s allegations against Ilham Tohti represent the government`s typical manipulation of the judiciary," Dilshat Rexit, spokesman for the overseas-based World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement.
"A Uighur intellectual who moderately and openly called on China to adjust its policies has lost his freedom," he said, calling the case "a mockery of justice".
Eight of Tohti`s students have also been detained in connection with the case, according to Li.
On Wednesday, prosecutors presented a large amount of material, including videos of Tohti`s university lectures and posts from his website "Uighur Online", as evidence that he is leading a separatist group, Li said.
In interviews, Tohti has stated his opposition to independence or separatism.
Nine diplomats from countries including Germany, Britain and Canada travelled to Urumqi to observe the trial but were barred from entering the courtroom.
Among those in Urumqi as the trial got underway was US Ambassador to China Max Baucus, although the envoy was in the region for trade meetings unrelated to Tohti`s case, according to a US embassy spokesman.
Tohti was detained in January after he condemned the government`s response to a suicide car attack in Beijing`s Tiananmen Square which the government blamed on separatists from Xinjiang.
His prosecution -- almost certain to result in a guilty verdict -- risks silencing moderate Uighur voices and cutting off the possibility of dialogue, critics say.