Marco Rubio wants a Nobel Peace Prize for the most famous Uyghur imprisoned by China

By Isabella Steger
October 11, 2018

Members of the US Congress are stepping up pressure on China over its treatment of its Muslim Uyghur population.

Lawmakers of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), led by senator Marco Rubio, said that they intend to nominate imprisoned Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ilham Tohti, once an economics professor in Beijing, worked over two decades to foster dialogue between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in his home region of Xinjiang. After deadly clashes broke out in 2009 between the two sides, he was repeatedly placed into detention and house arrest for publicizing cases of Uyghurs who were killed or went missing in the crackdown that followed. In 2014 he was detained again—for five months his family had no idea where he was—and then sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of separatism. His niece and students have also reportedly been imprisoned.

In 2016, Ilham Tohti was given the Martin Ennals Award by major human-rights groups.

Rubio and senator Christopher Smith, co-chairmen of the committee, also plan on Friday (Oct. 11) to introduce the Xinjiang Uyghur Human Rights Act of 2018 to Congress.

The CECC’s announcement came as the commission published its annual report on human rights in China, which this year focuses significantly on the situation in the far west border region amid growing evidence that China is incarcerating hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs there under the guise of rehabilitating them from religious extremism.  China’s longstanding repression of the Uyghur community, who make up about Xinjiang’s 22 million people, has worsened significantly since 2009.