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US urges China to release Uighur academic

University professor, blogger, and member of the Muslim Uighur minority, Ilham Tohti pauses before a classroom lecture in Beijing on June 12, 2010
University professor, blogger, and member of the Muslim Uighur minority, Ilham Tohti pauses before a classroom lecture in Beijing on June 12, 2010

The United States called on China to free a Uighur academic who was charged with separatism on Wednesday by prosecutors in far western Xinjiang after being detained earlier this year.

"We are concerned about reports that China has indicted prominent economics professor Ilham Tohti," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters, adding "we call on Chinese authorities to release" Tohti and six students held with him.

The United States was "particularly concerned about the lack of transparency concerning his welfare and access to legal representation," Harf added.

Chinese authorities should also guarantee Tohti and his students the "protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China's international human rights commitments."

Prosecutors in the far western Xinjiang region filed the motion with a court in the city of Urumqi on Wednesday, according to their official account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Prosecutors said they "instituted proceedings at the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court against defendant Ilham Tohti who is suspected of separatism."

Chinese police detained the outspoken economics professor in January. His detention has prompted condemnation from the United States, European Union and international rights groups.