BEIJING ― Seven Chinese students of a prominent Muslim minority professor who was sentenced to life in prison for separatism have been jailed for three to eight years after being convicted on the same charge, a rights lawyer said Monday.
Li Fangping, a defense lawyer for economics professor Ilham Tohti, said he was informed of the verdicts against the Uighur minority students by people close to the cases, but it was not clear when the decisions were announced. The students were tried in late November.
The life sentence given in September to Ilham Tohti, an outspoken critic of Beijing’s ethnic policies in the far western region of Xinjiang, has drawn wide international condemnation.
Authorities accused the professor and the students of forming a criminal gang that sought to split Xinjiang from China.
Li said the students received lighter sentences partly because the case attracted international attention and partly because they were not the main targets.
“It looks like the prosecution targeted Ilham Tohti, and the students were used to strengthen the case against the professor,” Li said. Those students who testified against the professor received shorter jail terms, he said.