'My Father Shouldn't Be in Jail At All'

Jewher Ilham, daughter of Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur academic who was jailed for life by China, testifies in Washington, April 8, 2014.

2016-10-17

The daughter of jailed Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti has spoken out in support of his peaceful promotion of equal rights and greater autonomy for the Turkic speaking Uyghur ethnic group in China. Jewher Ilham was speaking after her father, currently serving a life jail term for "separatism," won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award 2016 for human rights:

First of all I'd like to say that this is definitely a human rights issue we are talking about, because [my father] is someone who shouldn't be in jail at all. It is definitely a human rights issue for him to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

He was tried in secret, using evidence that was never made public, just selectively, and casually locked up for life, with both of his appeals rejected.

When they detained him, they did that exactly when and how they pleased, and he disappeared for several months before they finally issued any formal notification of detention.

It was another two months after that before they held the trial, so they broke all the rules and acted unreasonably.

If that's not a human rights issue, I don't know what is.

I hope that people continue to speak out for him, because the [ruling Chinese Communist Party's] Global Times newspaper put out an article saying that my father was the latest poster boy who would soon be forgotten about. I hope that everything the government says will soon be forgotten.

I hope that people continue to remember him ... because all of your remembering and your good wishes and your concern will be what saves my father from that place.

When I had just arrived in the U.S. ... I was quite naive, and I didn't understand why my father neglected his family. I didn't realize until I started to look into it after he was detained, and get deeper and deeper into it, just how many people there were in the world who need help.

While he was neglecting his own family, he was busy taking care of the wider, Uyghur family. I don't know if I can be as unselfish as my father, but I have made a start.

In future, if it's within my power, I will start taking care of my wider family, and caring about rights activists just like my father.

I want to be able to help them.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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