The Council of Europe picks the Uyghur scholar this year. He is the first Chinese citizen to receive the award. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014 despite working to reduce ethnic tensions in China.
Strasbourg (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Council of Europe announced today the winner of the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur scholar who was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 by a Chinese court.
Tohti is the first Chinese citizen to receive the award, coincidentally on the day China celebrates 70 years since the birth of the People's Republic.
Tohti, 49, is a writer, economist, and professor at Minzu University (for minorities) in Beijing. In 2014 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly supporting the separatist cause.
In reality, Tohti has always tried to reduce tensions between Uyghur and Han settlers in Xinjiang, calling on Beijing to lessen the economic and political discrimination towards the indigenous population, victimised by incompetent government officials and economic interest groups, as he has explained many times.
Some dissidents fear Beijing wants him to die in prison, like writer Liu Xiaobo.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has decided to award the prize to Tohti jointly with the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, a group promoting reconciliation in the Balkans.
“Their admirable courage enables them to resist misunderstanding and rejection, as well as political pressure,” said Liliane Maury Pasquier, president of the Parliamentary Assembly, which sponsors the prize.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang in August called for Tohti’s award nomination to be withdrawn, because he had been convicted on charges of subversion and supporting terrorism.
Many analysts believe that the accusations against him are only a pretext to silence a voice that has courageously denounced the injustices that his people have had to suffer for years.
Various sources have reported that over a million Uyghurs have been placed in concentration camps to be politically "re-educated". Witnesses have said that many of them have been victims of torture and extrajudicial killings. The Chinese government has tried to justify its action by claiming that the camps are vocational training centres.
The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority of Turkmen origin. Their persecution has intensified since April 2017 as the authorities blame them for holding strong religious and politically incorrect opinions.
They are frequently jailed or interned in camps or sent to psychiatric clinics where they go mad.
The authorities control their phones, proscribed the celebration of Ramadan, and banned Uyghur language teaching in school.
Since 2016, Xinjiang residents must provide DNA in order to get a passport. All this is done in the name of "national stability".