A Chinese rights lawyer says seven students of a prominent Muslim Uighur scholar convicted of separatism are standing trial on the same charge.

Li Fangping, a defense lawyer for the economics professor Ilham Tohti, said the trials for the students began Tuesday in the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court in the far west region of Xinjiang. The same court sentenced their teacher to life in prison in September.

Li says they are charged with separatism, and at least three students have confessed on state television that they worked for a website that Ilham Tohti set up to discuss Uighur issues but which was accused of fanning ethnic hatred.

Supporters of Ilham Tohti say the scholar and his students are being punished for his criticisms of the government.