East Turkestan: Imprisoned Uyghur Academic Ilham Tohti Awarded Martin Ennals Prize for Human Rights Defenders
Image courtesy of Ali Farzat.
Following the announcement that Ilham Tohti was the 2016 winner of the Martin Ennals Award, calls for his immediate release and that of his students have multiplied. Tohti was sentenced to life in prison on charges of separatism in 2014 after a 2-day trial. Seven of his former students were also imprisoned for volunteering for Tohti’s website Uighurbiz (or UyghurOnline). In recognition for his work defending human rights in China, he won the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award and was nominated for this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
The article below was published by Uyghur Human Rights Project:
In light of award China should immediately and unconditionally release Ilham Tohti and seven of his jailed students.
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) praises the decision of the Martin Ennals Foundation to award Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. UHRP also commends the Martin Ennals Foundation for distinguishing the work of the other 2016 finalists Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh and the Zone 9 Bloggers from Ethiopia.
“The recognition of Ilham Tohti’s peaceful advocacy for Uyghur human rights sends an unequivocal message to China that he should be released immediately and unconditionally. The harassment of Ilham Tohti, his family and students was intended to intimidate him into silence for speaking out against the daily discrimination and long-term assimilation experienced by Uyghurs,” said UHRP Director Alim Seytoff in a statement.
Mr Seytoff added: “The award of the 2016 Martin Ennals Award to Ilham Tohti should energize the international community to step up its efforts on his behalf. His trial and sentencing were an injustice and given the lack of human rights protections in China it is vital concerned government and multilateral officials work towards Ilham Tohti’s release.”
On October 11, 2016, the Martin Ennals Foundation, a collective of the world’s ten leading human rights organizations, announced its annual award to Ilham Tohti. A video of the award ceremony is available here.
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.
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.
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.
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.