Jailed Uyghur Scholar Ilham Tohti Awarded 'Prize For Freedom' in The Hague

2017-11-30
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Ilham Tohti is shown in an undated photo.
Ilham Tohti is shown in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

Jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti was honored on Thursday at a ceremony in The Hague, where he was awarded Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom, given in absentia and accepted on his behalf by a rights group advocating for his release.

An outspoken economics professor who regularly highlighted the religious and cultural persecution of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, Tohti was charged with promoting ethnic separatism and was handed a life sentence by a Chinese court on Sept. 23, 2014 following a two-day trial.

Awarding the prize on behalf of Liberal International (LI), a federation of 100 liberal and progressive parties and affiliates founded in 1947, LI Human Rights Committee chairman Markus Loening said Tohti had fought for democracy and the rule of law in China “with the sharp words of an intellectual and the warm heart of a humanist.”

“The Chinese government should feel ashamed,” Loening said at the Nov. 30 award ceremony. “It is not protecting the rights of its citizens but instead [is] putting them behind bars as soon as they speak up for human rights.”

The granting of today’s award reminds the world that Ilham Tohti, and the Uyghur people themselves, are suffering under Chinese Communist rule, Ilham Tohti Initiative co-founder Marie Holzman said in accepting the prize on Tohti’s behalf.

“Receiving this award today, endorsed by liberal political parties from around the world, is confirmation that the Chinese government can no longer sustain the pretense that no one cares about Ilham Tohti,” Holzman said.

Addressing the gathering at the ceremony by video, Tohti’s daughter Jewher Ilham called her father a man “known for his moderate positions and his desire to see different ethnic groups living together peacefully.”

“My father has been unyielding in speaking out for the Uyghur people’s human rights and their dignity,” she said.

'A powerful response'

Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Dolkun Isa—president of the Munich-based exile World Uyghur Congress—called Tohti’s award “a powerful response to China’s brutal repression of the Uyghur people.”

“[It] is a clear testament that the international community is fully aware of the plight of the Uyghur people in East Turkestan,” Isa said, using another name for the Uyghur people’s traditional homeland now claimed by Beijing as Xinjiang.

“The fundamental issue here is not just the case of Ilham Tohti,” added Enver Can, a founder of Ilham Tohti Initiative. “It is a case of the Uyghur people’s legitimate demands for freedom and human rights,” Can said.

“That is why he is in prison now.”

Also speaking to RFA in an interview after the award ceremony, Markus Loening rejected China’s description of Tohti as a terrorist.

“I cannot understand why the Chinese government needs to put people down, defame them, and say things about them that are simply not true,” Loening said.

“They are putting in jail some of the best people that China actually has,” he said.

Ilham Tohti's sentencing in 2014 was condemned by then-U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who called himself "deeply disturbed" by China's move to jail the well-respected Uyghur scholar and rights advocate.

In addition to today's award, Tohti has also received the Barbara Goldsmith "Freedom to Write" Award from the PEN American Center in 2014 and the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2016.

Reported by Kurban Niyaz for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Comments (3)
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Anonymous Reader

Ilham Tohti is not going to be freed anytime soon. The USA is not campaigning for his release, not when Trump is in charge anyway. Trump is not Moslem friendly. You may have to wait for Trump to leave office. Meanwhile keep your fingers crossed that Ilham does not die in jail. Trump would rather call Xi Jinping up and talk nice to China to release 3 basketball players who were caught shoplifting than to call Xi to talk about Ilham Tohti.

Dec 05, 2017 09:18 PM

Enver Can

This Award is recognition of Prof. Ilham Tohti's bid for his peoples' rights which is: rule of law, implementation of the regional Autonomy Laws and ethnic harmony based on mutual resdpect and co-existance!
This Award is the best moral support for a liberal Uyghur intellectuel like IT who sacrificed his freedom, his family and his property for his peoples' basic human rights!

This Award is very important support for peacefull and democratic struggle of the Uyghur people for their freedom and basic human trights!

This Award is another signal of the democratic world to President Xi Jinping that the International community is aware of his human rights violations and would NOT tolarate it!

And it is a signal to orther Democratic Parties in the world to to deal more seriously with the Human rights issue!

Dec 02, 2017 01:05 AM

Anonymous Reader

Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize and see what happened to him? Ilham Tohti was awarded the Prize For Freedom and guess what will happen to him?

Nov 30, 2017 11:06 PM

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