Lawmakers in America have recommended jailed Uyghur activist Ilham Tohti for the Nobel Peace Prize. Tohti has been sentenced to life in prison by the Chinese government for engaging in activities that promoted “separatism.” He was fighting for rights of the persecuted Uyghur community. The nomination was supported by U.S. lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum.
Nobel Peace Prize
“This nomination could not be more timely as the Chinese government and Communist Party continue to perpetrate gross human rights violations with over a million Uighurs and other ethnic minority Muslims detained in ‘political reeducation’ camps… Ilham Tohti’s peaceful efforts to promote understanding and ethnic harmony between Uighurs and Han Chinese merits recognition by the Committee,” U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement (Hong Kong Free Press).
Tohti has been in prison since September 2014 because of comments made targeting repressive policies of the Chinese Community Party (CCP). He criticized the CCP’s consistent persecution of the Uyghurs, done under the garb of containing religion extremism. After his detention, seven of his students were also arrested in the same year. Two years later in 2016, Tohti’s niece was arrested for possessing articles written by him on her smartphone.
During his 4-plus years in jail, the Chinese government has allowed Tohti to visit his family only a few times while also intercepting all communication between them. He was banished to solitary confinement and deprived of meals on many occasions. His family members have also been subjected to judicial harassment.
Almost 1 million Uyghurs have gone through internment camps in the Xinjiang region where they were forced to abandon their religious practices and pledge loyalty to the communist ideology. In recognition of his tireless work to promote human rights in China, Tohti was awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 2014 and the Martin Ennals Award in 2016.
“He used to be the only voice of Uyghurs in mainland China. He is the seed of hope of the Uyghur people, and making sure that he is kept alive while in prison is one of the most important duties of us all,” Hu Jia, a Chinese human rights activist and critic of the Communist Party of China, said in a statement (Radio Free Asia).
Uygur organizations have been staging protests over the past few days in several cities to bring attention to China’s brutal crackdown on the community.
February 5 is very important in Uyghur history as it was on this day in 1997 that Chinese security forces massacred hundreds of protestors in Xinjiang. This February 5 marks the 22nd anniversary of the event, and protestors plan on demonstrating in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington.
“The internment of over one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims means all families today live in a constant state of fear. They do not know the whereabouts or condition of their loved ones, or even if they themselves will be spared from the camps… The psychological trauma will be with us for generations,” Omer Kanat, Uyghur Human Rights Project Director, said to RFA.
Dokun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, has asked United Nations Human Rights Council to send a team to Xinjiang to assess suffering of the Uyghurs.