Rights Groups Call For Ilham Tohti's Release on Fourth Anniversary of His Arrest

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Imprisoned Uyghur professor and blogger Ilham Tohti is shown in an undated photo.
Imprisoned Uyghur professor and blogger Ilham Tohti is shown in an undated photo.

Rights activists and Uyghur advocacy groups today renewed their calls for the release from prison of Uyghur academic and blogger Ilham Tohti, who was arrested four years ago on charges of promoting separatism and is now serving a life term behind bars.

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 sentenced on Sept. 23, 2014 following a two-day show trial.

The court decision cited Tohti’s criticism of Beijing’s ethnic policies, his interviews with overseas media outlets, and his work founding and running the Chinese-language website Uighurbiz.net, which was shut down by Chinese authorities in 2014.

This week, the Germany-based Ilham Tohti Initiative called again on Beijing to immediately and unconditionally free the jailed writer and professor, calling the conditions of his imprisonment a “calculated and cruel deprivation” of his rights to family visits and outside communication.

“[All this has] been carefully engineered to punish the Uyghur scholar  with degrading treatment and psychological torture, while at the same time keeping the attention on his plight from the outside world to a minimum,” Initiative President Enver Can said.

“We are especially concerned about the reports that his wife and children would not be allowed to visit him during the current year of 2018,” Can said.

Instead of urging the separation of Xinjiang—the Uyghur people’s historic homeland—from China, Tohti had called only for China to implement its own regional autonomy laws and had consistently promoted peace and dialogue between the Han Chinese and Uyghur communities, Can said.

“Thus, Ilham Tohti is a prisoner of conscience, who is being cruelly punished for peacefully challenging the Chinese government’s policies toward ethnic minorities.”

Massive rights violations

In a Jan. 17 statement, the international press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described Tohti’s situation as “typical of the massive human rights violations taking place under [Chinese] President Xi Jinping.”

“[Tohti] was calling not for separatism but for a dialogue to reach a peaceful solution to his community’s problems,” RSF said.

In his writings, Tohti had made “valuable recommendations to the Chinese government to create genuine peace and harmony in East Turkestan,” the Munich-based exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said in a Jan. 17 statement, using the name for Xinjiang preferred by many Uyghurs to refer to their traditional homeland.

“He is not a criminal. He is a voice of reason and peace,” WUC President Dolkun Isa said.

“China has no reason to fear this moderate Uyghur voice and has no justification to imprison him for life. The international community will not stay silent until the day he’s free,” Isa said.

Ilham Tohti was awarded Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom in a ceremony held in absentia in The Hague in November 2017.  He was also the recipient of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2016 and the Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award from the PEN America Center in 2014.

Reported by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Comments (5)


You don't see it because you don't look. Here is a quote from the New York Times at the time of Ilham Tohti's sentencing in 2014:

"“Professor Tohti has consistently supported human rights for China’s ethnic Uighur citizens,” a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing said during the trial. “His arrest silenced an important Uighur voice that peacefully promoted harmony and understanding among China’s ethnic groups, particularly Uighurs. We stress the importance of Chinese authorities differentiating between peaceful dissent and violent extremism.”
The United States government has called on China to release Mr. Tohti and the seven students who have been detained."

Feb 12, 2018 09:32 PM

Anonymous Reader

Unlike Liu Xiao Bo I don't see the USA asking for Ilham's release. Could it be because he represents terrorism or terrorists group? From what I can see if the USA does not fight for you that is because the USA is in lock-step with China over Ilham, your Nelson Mandela.

Jan 26, 2018 08:09 AM

Enver Can

from Munich, Germany

Human Rights Prizes are given to outstanding personalities who dare to speak out for freedom, justice and human rights under dictatorial regimes and most difficult circumstances. Of course, individuals like Liu Xiao Bo and Ilham Tohti knew what consequences they could face while engaging in human rights work. Nevertheless, they were prepared to sacrifice their freedom, family, property and even their lives in their campaign for the rights of their people and against injustice. Recent history has introduced us to many such personalities. Some of them spent years behind bars and upon release, led their respective nations towards democracy and freedom. Others vanished in prison but became heroes and symbols of their movement.
Professor Ilham Tohti is one of these committed individuals. He is NOT a criminal as the Chinese government claims and NOT a separatist as per his charge in court. Ilham Tohti is a member of the CCP who offered a solution to ethnic tensions based on dialogue, harmony, friendship and the implementation of the national Autonomy Laws enshrined in the Constitution of the PRC. He was a peacemaker and, as some Chinese intellectuals have called him, “the Nelson Mandela of the Uyghurs”. However, instead of utilizing his peaceful methods to tackle the acute problem, the Chinese government chose to indict him as a so called “separatist” and silence his voice through life-long imprisonment.
Professor Ilham Tohti's arrest and subsequent show-trial provoked worldwide criticism. Between 2014 and 2017, he has been awarded four international human rights prizes, each recognizing his bravery and beliefs. And he will be nominated and will hopefully receive many more prestigious human rights awards. These events are the exact opposite of what the Chinese government wanted to achieve. Professor Ilham Tohti, along with his ideas and vision, are now better known by the world community than before. He is being recognized for his work, sacrifice, and what he stands for. Furthermore, the hardship and deteriorating human rights situation faced by the Uyghurs is becoming more widely acknowledged throughout the world, which is something the Chinese government prefers to stay hidden.
I think that it’s time the Chinese authorities free Ilham Tohti as soon as possible and leverage his progressive concepts that encompass ethnic harmony and rule of law. Any delay of his release and decline in health during imprisonment will further harm the Chinese government’s international reputation in the human rights field.
As commented by the anonymous reader, if his current situation doesn’t improve and he simply vanishes in prison, Professor Ilham Tohti will prevail as a martyr of the Uyghur people and a symbol of their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.

Jan 25, 2018 05:07 AM

Anonymous Reader

All those who received overseas prizes have bad endings. Liu Xiao Bo is one, as for Ilham I don't think his end is going to be better.

Jan 19, 2018 05:13 AM

Enver Can

from Munich

Prof. Ilham Tohti was also awarded (in absentia) with the Human Rights Prize of the city of Weimar, Germany, at a special Ceremony on 10 December 2017, despite protests by the Chinese government.

Jan 18, 2018 12:29 AM

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