The Uyghur Human Rights Project welcomes the award of the European Parliament’s 2019 Sakharov Prize to Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti

For immediate release

December 19, 2019 1:00 pm EST

Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur Human Rights Project welcomes the award of the European Parliament’s 2019 Sakharov Prize to Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti. This recognition of Ilham’s work to draw attention to the human rights conditions of the Uyghur people and of his efforts to build understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese highlights the gross injustice of his life sentence for ‘separatism.’

Ilham Tohti’s daughter, Jewher, accepted the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on behalf of her jailed father at a ceremony in Strasbourg on December 18, 2019.

In a statement, President of the European Parliament David Sassoli said: “Today should be a moment of joy, to celebrate freedom of speech. Instead, it is a day of sadness. Once again, this chair is empty, because in the world in which we are living, exercising our freedom of thought does not always mean being free.”

Ilham Tohti worked at the Central Nationalities (Minzu) University in Beijing as an economics professor. He also ran the Uighurbiz website, a forum in Mandarin Chinese to discuss economic, social and cultural issues facing the Uyghur people in China.

On January 15, 2014 he was arrested and was handed a life sentence on September 23, 2014 after a trial that fell far below international standards. The White House and the European Union condemned the sentencing.

In a filmed interview with family friend and Tibetan activist, Woeser, Ilham Tohti explained the pressures he and his family have faced due to his work.

At the 2019 Sakharov Prize ceremony, Jewher said: “To be honest with you, I do not know where my father is. 2017 was the last time my family received word about him.”

She added: “Today, there is no freedom for Uyghurs in China...My father, like most Uyghurs, has been labelled a violent extremist…It is under this false label of extremism that the government has put one million people – probably more – into ‘concentration camps,’ where Uyghurs are forced to give up their religion, language and culture, where people are tortured and some have died.”

Since 2017, the Chinese government has conducted an intensified campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples that has included mass internment, widescale harsh sentencing, and forced labor.

Recent leaks of Chinese government documents to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The New York Times reveal the Chinese Communist Party’s genocidal intent in East Turkestan through “no mercy” policies.

UHRP Executive Director said: “The decision to give the 2019 Sakharov Prize to Ilham Tohti is a welcome development. Ilham’s family has suffered enough, and the bravery of his wife, Guzelnur, and children, such as Jewher, should not go unrecognized. I hope this award offers some comfort that the world is watching China. The Chinese authorities have terrorized and torn apart too many innocent Uyghur families.  The Sakharov Prize should not only galvanize international actors into further responses toward the Uyghur crisis, but also serve notice to China that it cannot conceal crimes against humanity.”