Daughter accepts European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for jailed Uyghur scholar

BISHKEK (TCA) — Ilham Tohti’s daughter Jewher Ilham accepted the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought during the ceremony in Strasbourg on December 18 on behalf of her jailed father, the European Parliament reported on its website.

Ilham Tohti, an Uyghur economist fighting for the rights of China’s Muslim Uyghur minority, is the winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2019.

Ilham Tohti has been in jail since 2014 on separatism-related charges. Presenting the award, European Parliament President David Sassoli said: “Ilham Tohti, with his activism, managed to give a voice to the Uyghurs. […] He has been working for 20 years to promote dialogue and mutual understanding between them and other Chinese people.

“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 we are living, exercising our freedom of thought does not always mean being free.”

Accepting the award, Jewher Ilham said: “It is an honour to be at the European Parliament today to accept the Sakharov Prize on behalf of my father. I am grateful for the opportunity to tell his story, because he cannot tell it himself. To be honest with you, I do not know where my father is. 2017 was the last time my family received word about him.

“Today, there is no freedom for Uyghurs in China… Not at school, not in public, not even in private homes. My father, like most Uyghurs, has been labelled a violent extremist, with a disease that needs to be cured and a mind that needs to be washed… 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.”

Ilham Tohti is a proponent of dialogue and an advocate for the implementation of regional autonomy laws in China. In 2014, following a show trial, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on separatism-related charges.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded annually since 1988 to individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In late August 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination documented large numbers of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities detained in political “re-education camps” in China’s Xinjiang region, often for long periods without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism.

Beijing authorities insist that the enormous detention camps are vocational education and training centers for Uighurs to learn language and law, as well as gain professional skills. The camps are also claimed by Beijing to strengthen resistance to extremism and terrorism.

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Times of Central Asia