China detains prominent Uighur academic, say reports

BEIJING (AFP) - Police in China have detained a prominent Uighur academic and outspoken critic of government policy towards the mostly Muslim minority, a report and a friend of his said.

Mr Ilham Tohti was held by a group of police on Wednesday along with his mother, his wife said according to a report late Wednesday on Uighurbiz, a website he set up.

Mr Tohti, 45, is an economist at a university in Beijing and has been a critic of China's policies towards Uighurs, who are concentrated in the far western region of Xinjiang, which is regularly hit by unrest.

Police did not carry out "any legal procedures," while forcibly detaining Mr Tohti, the website said according to a cached version.

The website itself was not accessible Thursday, but the report was confirmed by Ms Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan poet and friend of Tohti who said she had spoken to the scholar's wife.

She wrote on her blog that Me Tohti and his mother had been detained at home in front of his two children, adding that police searched the house, confiscating phones and computer equipment.

It was not clear what triggered the reported detention, but Mr Tohti has recently expressed fears on his website and in interviews with foreign media about increased pressure on Uighurs following a deadly attack in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October, which police blamed on suspects from Xinjiang.

Mr Tohti has been detained on a number of occasions in the past few years, including for more than a week in 2009 after his website ran reports on riots in Xinjiang which killed around 200 people.

Mr Tohti, who lectures at at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, did not answer his phone on Thursday and Beijing police were not immediately available for comment.

The vast Xinjiang region, which borders central Asia, has been hit by a series of violent clashes in the past year, which have killed dozens and which China's government has sometimes blamed on "terrorists".