An economist at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, Tohti pushed for a peaceful solution for Uyghur issues and equal rights for the persecuted group, submitting his proposals to the Chinese government for improving relations between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. Tohti also ran the Uyghur Online website, formerly at uyghurbiz.net, set up in 2006 as an advisory platform for Uyghur intellectuals to promote voices from within their community.
The website also drew attention to the discrimination facing Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) under Beijing’s rule, as authorities tried to assimilate the ethnic group by restricting religious practices and use of the Uyghur language.
The Chinese government shut down the website several times prior to Tohti’s formal arrest in January 2014, citing the politically sensitive nature of its content. He was convicted by the Urumqi Intermediate Court on Sept. 23 of the same year following a two-day trial.