BEIJING - Seven students of prominent Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti have been tried in secret for separatism, a lawyer said Wednesday, days after the professor lost his appeal against a life sentence for the same offence.
The hearings were held in two closed-door sessions in the Xinjiang regional capital Urumqi on Tuesday, said Li Fangping, one of Tohti's lawyers.
The trials come during a harsh crackdown on dissent by China's ruling Communist Party under President Xi Jinping, in which scores of activists, lawyers, academics and journalists have been jailed.
Six of the students are from the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority while one is a member of China's Yi minority, the state-run Global Times newspaper reported.
Six were tried in Chinese while the seventh was tried in the Uighur language, said Li.
A verdict is expected at a later date, added the lawyer, who declined to say whether he represented any of the defendants. Officials at the Intermediate People's Court in Xinjiang did not respond to requests for comment.
Tohti, 45, had been an outspoken critic of China's policies towards Uighurs in their homeland of Xinjiang, which has been hit by a wave of violence which the government blames on separatist groups.
He was sentenced to life in prison in September for "separatism", a verdict that international rights groups as well as the US and European Union have criticised as politically motivated.
Xinjiang authorities rejected his appeal last week.
Several of Tohti's students were paraded on state broadcaster China Central Television earlier this year to deliver "confessions" on their work with the professor on his bilingual website, Uighur Online.
Authorities allege Tohti used the site "as a platform to recruit and manipulate others into spreading rumours, distorting and hyping issues to create conflicts, spread separatist thinking, incite ethnic hatred and advocate 'Xinjiang independence'," the Global Times reported.
The students could face five to 15 years in prison, the newspaper said, citing Li.
The Global Times identified the seven students as Mutellip Imin, Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Nijat, Abduqeyyum Ablimit, Atikem Rozi, Akbar Imin and Luo Yuwei.
Imin wrote in an online post last year that police had held him without charge for 79 days, during which time he was repeatedly interrogated and forced to sign a statement denouncing Tohti. He was released but later detained again.
"I raised objections, but they threatened to send me to jail for a year or two if I did not cooperate," he wrote.