October 25, 2019
BRUSSELS: The European Union on Thursday awarded its top human rights prize to economist Ilham Tohti for his work defending China’s Uighur minority, and urged Beijing to release him from jail.
A moderate, though, outspoken Uighur critic of Beijing’s policies in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, Tohti was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014.
Despite being known as a moderate who argued against Uighur separatism, he was convicted of fanning ethnic hatred, advocating violence and instigating terror through his classroom teaching and a website on Uyghur issues.
In awarding the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament described Tohti as a “voice of moderation and reconciliation” who campaigned for the implementation of regional autonomy laws in China.
The legislature’s president, David Sassoli, praised Tohti for dedicating his life to advocating the rights of China’s Uighur minority.
“By awarding this prize, we strongly urge the Chinese government to release Tohti and we call for the respect of minority rights in China,” Sassoli said.
The EU award, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was created in 1988 to honour individuals or groups who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The prize will be presented in a ceremony in Strasbourg on Dec 18.