A Chinese court on Tuesday jailed for life the country's most prominent advocate for the rights of Muslim Uighur people, a sentence that rights advocates said sent a clear signal that the government is determined to suppress dissent.
Economics professor Ilham Tohti, 44, stood trial for two days last week on separatism charges in the western region of Xinjiang. His case has provoked an outcry in the West and among international human rights groups.
"I'm innocent, I protest," Tohti shouted to the court before the judge ordered police officers to drag him out of the courthouse, according to Tohti's lawyer, Li Fangping.
Tohti's wife, Guzaili Nu'er, who saw Tohti for the first time in eight months during last week's trial, bawled in the courthouse when the verdict was announced, Li said.
Tohti, who is an ethnic Uighur, is the latest moderate intellectual to be convicted by Chinese President Xi Jinping's administration.
The court also ordered the confiscation of all of his personal property.
"This is totally unacceptable," Li said. "He will appeal. Based on the wording of the verdict, this case is extremely politicised."
The sentence was met with dismay among the international community and rights advocates, who have come under increasing pressure from the government.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was "deeply disturbed" by Tohti's sentence.