"I think it's a shame. He is an intellectual and a rational person," said the artist, whose next show is due in London. Asked about the Chinese government's view that he is a terrorist, Ai said, "Oh, come on! He is not a terrorist."
Ai's remarks came as reports surfaced that Tohti, who championed the cause of the Uighur community, has decided to appeal against his sentence. The European Union has demanded Tohti's immediate release, which led to China coding EU for interfering in its internal affairs.
At the court hearing, prosecutors cited a speech in which Tohti, a university professor, said Uighurs should resist Chinese authorities in the same manner as some brave Chinese opposed Japanese repression during the Second World War. This was cited as evidence that he was inciting violence.
"As a professor, he can have all kind of views. This is personal opinion. If he is state official, he can be asked to step down from his position. But as an individual, he is free to air his views," Ai said.
"Why do you have to censor everybody who has a different view," he asked of the government. "No one should be sent to jail for this reason, not for one day."
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