The European Parliament confirms that the professor, known for his criticism of Chinese policy in Xinjiang Province, is among the five finalists. In September 2014 he was sentenced to life in prison by Beijing for "terrorism" and "inciting subversion": his supporters believe the allegations are "completely false".
Brussels (AsiaNews) - The European Parliament has named the well-known intellectual and Uighur activist Ilham Tohti among finalists for the Sakharov Prize. The Professor, who had taught for years in a university in Beijing, was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2014 on charges of "terrorism" and "inciting separatism". In reality he was targeted by authorities for his writings, critical of the central government and "erroneous communist policies" in the western province of Xinjiang.
Tohti, 47, is famous for his public interventions in favor of the Uighur. This ethnic group lives in the northern autonomous region of Xinjiang, is ethnically Turkish and Muslim, and suffering a strong linguistic, economic, cultural and religious repression at the hand s of the Chinese central government.
However there is no evidence that Tohti supports the separatist movement and since the day of his arrest he continues to proclaim himself innocent. "He believes he has always tried to work in the interest of the nation with words and with deeds - says his lawyer - and the organic integration of the majority Han and the Uighur" minority.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is an award dedicated to the scientist and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, set up by the European Parliament in 1988 to reward personalities or organizations who have dedicated their lives to defending human rights and individual freedoms. It is awarded every year around December 10, in memory of the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed.
Recent winners included Raif Badawi (2015), a blogger who opposes repression in Saudi Arabia; Malala Yousafzai (2013), a young Pakistani activist who is fighting for the right to education in her country; Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi (2012), opposed to the regime of the ayatollahs in Iran; the association Memorial (2009) active in Russia; Hu Jia (2008), the historical face of dissidents in China and point of contact among activists for human rights and the international community.
Hu Jia commented on to this nomination Radio Free Asia: "As a Chinese citizen, and Sakharov award winner, I believe that if there is one person in all of China who really deserves the award that's Ilham Tohti. He is a thorn in the side of the Communist Party: He is the consciousness of the Uighurs and for this has received the harshest punishment. The people he represents are persecuted, and this has sparked a welter of hostility and confrontation. But the key to loosen this pressure is Ilham’s release".
However, the same activist fears this nomination could lead to increased pressures on the detainee: " In 2008, I was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison on charges of "inciting subversion of state power," because I engaged in activities to promote human rights and liberty before the Olympic Games. The European Parliament awarded me the Sakharov Prize, and I was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. When I was in prison, the head of the Beijing municipal political police led a group of public security and foreign ministry officials to pay a visit to me in prison — they were putting me under intense pressure, trying to force me to make a public announcement that I rejected both the Sakharov Prize and the nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. In exchange, these officials said that they would reduce my sentence by 2.5 years, and also pay me double the cash award of the Sakharov Prize, as economic "compensation." These secret political police, and the jailers in their charge, lobbied me with this proposal on up to seven occasions. I flatly rejected all of these despicable, filthy political dealings. Thus, I am deeply aware of how moral support, and awards from the international community, place the Communist Party's security organs and foreign affairs officials under enormous pressure".
Hu concluded, that the jailed professor "opposes all forms of violence and bloodshed. If he's awarded the Sakharov Prize, then his ideas, what he advocates, what he has attempted to realize, his wish that we're all able to live with dignity as part of a big family, will be recognized by the entire world. The Xinjiang question will be looked at squarely by the world, as well as the question of the Uighurs."