A Chinese professor, sentenced to life in prison for ‘separatism’, won a human rights prize today for his work in improving communication between Han and Uighur Chinese.
A Uighur Muslim professor, currently serving a lifetime prison sentence in China, has been awarded a human rights prize for encouraging better communication between the Uighur population and the majority Han Chinese population.
Ilham Tohti’s daughter, Jewher Ilham, collected the 2016 Martin Ennals Award at the University of Geneva on her father’s behalf this evening.
“My father Ilham Tohti has used only one weapon in his struggle for the basic rights of the Uyghurs of Xinjiang: Words,” said Ilham.
“This is all he has ever had at his disposal, and all that he has ever needed.
“And this is what China found so threatening. A person like him doesn’t deserve to be in prison for even a day.”
Tohti was an economics professor at Minzu University in Beijing before his arrest in January 2014. He was sentenced to life in prison on September 23, 2014 for the crime of ‘separatism’ – promoting the independence of the majority Muslim province, Xinjiang.
After the trial, Amnesty International called the sentence “shameful” and Human Rights Watch called it “shocking.” One Chinese writer, Wang Lixiong, called Tohti ‘the Uighur Nelson Mandela’.
Syrian lawyer, Razan Zaitouneh, who was kidnapped by the salafist rebel group, Jaish al-Islam, near Damascus in 2012 also won a Martin Ennals prize.
Zaitouneh documented killings, arrests, and human rights violations committed by the regime before she started the Violations Documentation Centre. It is unclear whom she is currently being detained by.
The Martin Ennals Award is decided by judges from ten human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Front Line Defenders. It aims to “give protection to human rights defenders worldwide”.
In 2015, the prize was awarded to Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati human rights activist who was placed under house arrest for campaigning for improved freedom of expression in his country.