Tohti Tunyaz (pen-name Muzart)

The Uighur writer and historian Tohti Tunyaz (pen-name ‘Muzart’) was first arrested on 6 February 1998 in Urumchi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, whilst on a research trip from Japan, where he was living with his wife and children and studying for a Ph.D in Uighur history and ethnic relations at Tokyo University.

He was charged on 10 November 1998 with ‘inciting national disunity’ and ‘stealing state secrets for foreign persons’ (later amended by the Supreme Court to ‘illegally acquiring state secrets’). The charges against him are believed to be linked to his university research, and specifically to a ‘seditious’ book which he had allegedly had published in Japan in 1998 entitled The Inside Story of the Silk Road. According to the Chinese government, The Inside Story of the Silk Road advocates ethnic separation. However, neither the book nor its manuscript was submitted to the court as evidence, and as far as his teachers and colleagues know, Tohti wrote no such book in Japan.

He was reportedly convicted on 10 March 1999 by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court and, following an appeal, was sentenced by the Supreme Court on 15 February 2000 to eleven years’ imprisonment and two years’ deprivation of political rights. The decision of the court was based on the supposition that the defendant intended to publish a book in Japanese in order to instigate national disunity, and that he had made copies of confidential documents with the intention of leaking them. PEN believes that his intention was only to collect source materials in order to complete his doctoral thesis on the modern history of the Uighur people.

In spite of a vigorous campaign by Prof. Tsugitaka Sato of Tokyo University, and his subsequent adoption by the UN Working group on Arbitrary Detention, Tunyaz remained incarcerated in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Prison No.3, Urumqi until he was released on the expiry of his sentence on 10 February 2009.


His wife and children have been living in Japan for many years now, and she has recently obtained Japanese citizenship. She has requested that the Chinese authorities allow her husband to return to Japan for medical treatment and to continue his studies at Tokyo university, but it is thought that restrictions on his movement remain. English PEN are therefore calling upon the Chinese authorities to drop all remaining restrictions against Tohti Tunyaz so that he can rejoin his family in Japan, in accordance with Article 12 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory.   



Tohti Tunyaz was born 1 October 1959 in Bay County, Aksu prefecture, Xinjiang Province, North West China. He adopted the name of the biggest river ‘Muzart’ in Bay County as his pen-name.

Tohti graduated from the history department of the Central Institute of Nationalities, Beijing, in 1984 and was assigned to work for the China National Standing Committee. During this time he reportedly formed a close relationship with former Xinjiang Governors Seyfudin Eziz and Ismail Emet, and was involved in the translation of Eziz’s works. He started studying for his Ph.D at Tokyo University in 1995, specialising in the history of Chinese policy toward minority peoples in the 19th and 20th centuries, and was still completing his studies at the time of his arrest. He has reportedly published several papers on Uighur history in Japan, and published a book on Uighur history in 1995 in Beijing.

In 2002, Tohti Tunyaz was awarded the PEN America/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. He is an Honorary Member of the English, American, Canadian and Japanese PEN centres.

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