Allow Outspoken Scholar to Enter China


Target: President of China Xi Jinping

Goal: Allow academic scholar Elliot Sperling back into China and free outspoken economist Ilham Tohti from imprisonment

Elliot Sperling is a Tibetologist at Indiana University who was traveling to China as a visiting scholar. Despite having traveled to China several times, he was ordered to board a flight home to the United States upon his arrival to Beijing. No reason was given, but Sperling suspects it is because he spoke out in support of his detained friend, Ilham Tohti. China is known for silencing its own citizens for speaking out against the nation’s policies, and does not hesitate to bar foreigners from entering if the government feels they pose a threat. However, the country is violating the right to freedom of expression and speech. China needs to allow Sperling back into the country to teach and free Tohti from incarceration.

It is unprecedented for someone to be turned away from China after being granted a visa. Other scholars have been denied a visa, but Sperling’s case is unique. When he asked why he was being sent back to the states, authorities couldn’t say why, but Sperling says this treatment isn’t going to silence him, especially on the topic of his friend Ilham Tohti. He expected to be barred from China due to his outspokenness, but raised concerns in The Guardian about how this will affect other scholars who live in or travel to China.

He stated, “I’m concerned about the message [this sends to other academics] and the way it is accepted. Part of its strength is the willingness of people to accept the dictates and certain – what I call authoritarian – norms. I do think on one level the power of such moves by China exists to the extent that we accord it power. If someone decides: ‘Maybe I had better keep quiet’, they are ceding that power.”

Sperling’s friend, Ilham Tohti, is a leading economist who is an outspoken critic of China’s policies. He has been detained since January, 2014, and charged with separatism. His lawyer, who has only seen Tohti, states that the economist was kept in leg shackles and starved for three weeks. Unfortunately, when Tohti won a United States human rights award in the spring, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Tohti was a criminal suspect.

This blatant disregard for human life and rights is unacceptable. Not only should Ilham Tohti be released, but Eliot Sperling should also be allowed back into the country. Urge the Chinese president to pardon Tohti and allow Sperling passage into the country.


Dear President Xi Jinping,

In January of 2014, your government detained leading economist Ilham Tohti for being an outspoken critic of your country’s policies. Need I remind you that the right to freedom of speech and expression is inherent to all human beings? By detaining this man and denying him food, you are violating many of his rights. Also, your country has barred United States academic Eliot Sperling from entering China because of his outspoken support of Tohti. This action is absolutely ridiculous. Sperling has not done anything violent, he is merely supporting his friend and colleague.

I am writing to urge you to release Tohti immediately, as he does not deserve to be in shackles. He is a critic of the nation, not a murderer or rapist. Your country should allow Sperling passage back into China, as he merely wants to educate your people. Humans should be allowed to be outspoken, it is our right. No government has the power to take that away from us.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: CaptainHaddock via Wikimedia Commons

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