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Bucking trend, China releases activists

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BEIJING – Like most other foreign journalists in Beijing, I generally report on the arrest of lawyers and civil rights activists and community organizers who fall foul of the Chinese authorities. So when some of them are released, it is only fair to record the fact.

The trouble is, the authorities are no less tight-lipped when it comes to the reason for their release than they are when people are asking why they were detained in the first place.

No explanation for release

Take Ilham Tohti, for example. He's a Beijing-based university lecturer and a Uighur; he belongs to the Muslim minority ethnic group that comes from Xinjiang in China’s far west, and when violent rioting broke out there last June, Mr. Tohti was detained, as were hundreds of others.

Tohti warned friends he expected to be taken in, having been visited by the police a couple of times, and sure enough, on July 8 he simply disappeared. A day or so later the governor of Xinjiang, Nur Bekri, publicly accused Tohti of stirring up ethnic trouble on his website, “Uighur Online.”

It was impossible to verify the claim. The site had been taken down by the time the accusation surfaced, and it has been closed ever since.

More than 200 people suspected of involvement in the riots are set to go on trial this week, according to state media. But on Sunday, Tohti was allowed to go home. If he knows whether or not he has been charged with anything, he is not saying, preferring to stay out of the public eye. The authorities have said nothing, not even where he was held, let alone why.

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