The scholar was sentenced to life 2014 for his alleged support for the Uyghur ethnic separatist cause. In reality, he has always tried to reduce tensions with the Han majority. Human rights groups have appealed to the UN to condemn Beijing’s camps.
Brussels (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The European Parliament has named Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti as a finalist for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Tohti, 49, is a writer, economist, and professor at Beijing’s Minzu University, which is devoted to the country’s ethnic minorities. In 2014 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly supporting the Uyghur separatist cause.
In reality, Tohti has always tried to reduce tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang, asking Beijing to lessen economic and political discrimination against the indigenous population, which, as he repeatedly stated, has been the victim of local government officials and economic interest groups.
Some dissidents fear that Beijing wants to see him die in prison, like writer Liu Xiaobo. For Dacian Ciolos, a European Parliament Member from Romania and president of the Renew Europe parliamentary group, “By being such a fearless voice fighting for human rights and fundamental freedoms in China, Ilham Tothi fully embodies the spirit of the Sakharov Prize.”
Jewher Ilham, Tohti’s US-based daughter, welcomed the announcement. “I am very gratified,” she told Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service, that “my father has not been forgotten.”
Various reports indicate that over one million Uyghurs have been confined to concentration camps to be "politically" re-educated. Many witnesses speak of torture and extrajudicial killings. The Chinese government has tried to justify the camps as places of professional training.
The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority of Turkmen origin. The persecution against them has intensified since April 2017 after they were accused of having strong and politically incorrect religious opinions.
They are frequently imprisoned or sent to camps. Some are interned in psychiatric clinics, where they go mad. Their phones are monitored. Despite being mostly Muslim they are not allowed to celebrate Ramadan. Uyghur language teaching has been banned in schools, and since 2016, Xinjiang residents must supply their DNA to apply for a passport. All of this is done in the name of "national stability".
The United Nations has not yet intervened in the matter. Five international human rights groups sent a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres dated 17 September calling on him to "publicly and unequivocally condemn [. . .] the Chinese government’s abusive policies” and call for “the immediate closing” of its internment camps.