European Parliament: Award Ilham Tohti The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for 2016

Awarding Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti the Sakharov Prize tells China it cannot silence peaceful human rights advocates

For immediate release
September 29, 2016 4:55 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) calls on the European Parliament to award Ilham Tohti the 2016 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Professor Ilham Tohti has been a consistent voice for the equitable treatment of Uyghurs in China and in doing so has made an outstanding contribution to human rights.

Through the distribution of credible information on political, economic and social discrimination facing Uyghurs via his website, Uighurbiz and his teaching at Minzu University (formerly Central Nationalities University), Ilham Tohti not only exposed Chinese government human rights abuses, but also fostered inter-ethnic dialogue to find lasting solutions.

“In awarding the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti, the European Parliament will send a strong message to China regarding the poor record of human rights in East Turkestan. Furthermore, this award will bring attention to the plight of minorities across China who face enormous cultural and social pressures to assimilate into the dominant Han culture,” said UHRP Director, Alim Seytoff in a statement.

Mr. Seytoff added: “The sentencing of Ilham Tohti to life imprisonment for his peaceful advocacy on Uyghur human rights concerns was a great injustice. The Chinese government has also repeatedly harassed his family, friends and students to compound his punishment. By awarding Ilham Tohti the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Parliament will not only acknowledge this network of advocates, but also remind Uyghurs in China that the outside world has not forgotten them.”

Professor Ilham Tohti was found guilty on charges of separatism and sentenced to life imprisonment on September 23, 2014 after a two-day trial that began on September 17. A November 21, 2014 appeal hearing was held behind closed doors at the Urumchi Number 1 Detention Center. The appeal was turned down.

Ilham Tohti, who worked as a professor at Beijing’s Minzu University, often questioned the efficacy of Chinese government policies targeting Uyghurs citing worsening economic, social and cultural conditions. He founded the Uighurbiz website in order to “promote mutual understanding as well as dialogue among ethnic communities,” as he explained in an autobiographical essay in 2011.

After his January 15, 2014 detention in Beijing, Chinese state media and Chinese officials heavily prejudiced Ilham Tohti’s case.

Only three days after his detention, an op-ed in the Chinese state run Global Times accused Tohti of links to the “West,” delivering “aggressive lectures and being the “brains” behind alleged Uyghur terrorists.

A March 6, 2014 article by AFP cited former Xinjiang chairman Nur Bekri as stating the evidence against Ilham Tohti was “irrefutable.”

The conditions of Ilham Tohti’s pre-trial detention did not meet international standards, as reports emerged that he had been denied food and medical assistance. These allegations place China in violation of articles 20 and 22 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Furthermore, procedural issues ahead of his trial denied Ilham Tohti a fair hearing. His lawyers’ requests to see prosecution evidence ahead of the trial were rejected. One of Ilham Tohti’s lawyers, Wang Yu was arrested on charges of subversion in January 2016; however, she was released in August this year after a videotaped confession, which observers suggest was made under conditions of extreme pressure.

Since his conviction, Chinese authorities have seized his family’s assets and maintained heavy handed surveillance of the family home in Beijing. Seven of Ilham Tohti’s students were given prison sentences of up to eight years in December 2014. Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Nijat, Mutellip Imin, Abduqeyyum Ablimit, Atikem Rozi, Akbar Imin and Luo Yuwei (an ethnic Yi) worked as volunteers on Professor Tohti’s Uighurbiz website.

At the sixty-ninth session of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention held between April 22 and May 1, 2014, a panel of five human rights experts rendered the opinion that Ilham Tohti’s deprivation of liberty since January 15, 2014 is arbitrary.

The Working Group cited China’s violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in Mr. Tohti’s case—in particular, articles 9, 10, 11, 18, 19, 20 and 21. The universal right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under the articles of the UDHR.

See also:

China Change: Ilham Tohti’s Nomination for Sakharov Prize Welcomed by Laureate and Scholars

China Change: Ilham Tohti Documentary

UNPO: European Parliament Conference Launches Ilham Tohti’s Candidature for Sakharov Prize

European Parliament: Sakharov Prize 2016: nominees revealed

Uyghur Human Rights Project: Ilham Tohti Political Prisoner Profile

Human Rights Watch: China Wants You to Forget Ilham Tohti