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Prominent Uighur academic jailed for life

China has sentenced Uighur academic Ilham Tohti to life in prison after finding him guilty of separatism.

Tohti, who is not an independence activist but an outspoken critic of China’s sometimes brutal crackdown on Uighurs, denies the charges.

Until his arrest early this year, the academic was a professor in Beijing and a member of the Communist Party. He has expressed revulsion against violence used by some Uighur and called for Xinjiang province to remain part of China.

However he warned Chinese authorities that the crackdown by security forces was radicalising young Uighur.

A spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress said Tohti was being persecuted.

"China has sent a clear message...thoroughly disappointing all those who hope to use the legal process or reasonable proposals to change the status quo of Uighurs," said Dilxat Raxit in an emailed statement to Reuters news agency.

Human rights group Amnesty International said the verdict was “deplorable” and an "affront to justice".

"His legal team were refused access to evidence and they were unable to meet Tohti for six months. One of Tohti's lawyers was also forced to quit the case following political pressure," the group said.

Tohti’s lawyer, Li Fangping, told BBC Chinese that he would be filing an appeal.

"He told us that no matter the verdict, he will not be angry nor seek revenge. No matter whether he is in jail or if he is freed in the future, he will still advocate for dialogue between Uighurs and Han Chinese," he said.