On Wednesday, Jewher Tohti, the daughter of the jailed Uyghur rights activist, Ilham Tohti, accepted a European Parliament prize on his behalf.
The award ceremony for the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was held in the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg. “This is not about fighting China, this is about human rights,” Jewher Tohti said at the ceremony. “To the members of parliament, use your laws to hold Chinese government officials accountable,” she added.
China has faced immense international scrutiny for cracking down on the Muslim Uyghur minority in its northwesterly region of Xinjiang. To stand against the suppression, Ilham Tohti, an economist raised his voice, for which he was jailed for life in 2014 on separatism charges that were strongly condemned in the Western capitals.
The Story of So-called “Re-education” Camps
The EU legislature believes that the Chinese authorities have shoved more than 1 million Uyghurs in internment camps since April 2017, where they are forced to swear loyalty to the Chinese government by renouncing their ethnic identity and religious beliefs.
Adrian Zenz, who is an independent German researcher and an expert on China’s ethnic policies, estimated in March that 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslims had been or were being detained in the so-called re-education centers in Xinjiang. However, China denies any mistreatment or mass internment. The country claims that Xinjiang is under peril from Islamist militants and separatists, and it is taking simple steps to end extremism and violence through education.
China’s Take on the Activist
After Tohti’s award was announced in October, China stated he was, “a criminal who was sentenced in accordance with the law by a Chinese court”, and urged that “all sides respect China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty and not inflate the arrogance of terrorists.”
To take up a teaching position in the US, Ilham Tohti was leaving China with his daughter in 2013 when he was intercepted by authorities at the airport, Jewher told the EU lawmakers.
Jewher Fears for Her Family’s Wellbeing in China
She fears that speaking out about Beijing’s policy could bring harm to her family in China. “To be honest with you, I do not know where my father is,” she said.
Ethnicities such as Hongkongers, Tibetans, and Chinese Christians also struggle to protect their identity, she said, while Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek people are being imprisoned.
The Sakharov Prize
The EU legislature has limited influence in foreign affairs but uses the Sakharov prize to resist rights violations around the globe. The EU lawmakers drew up a shortlist for the prize in October, and representatives of all nominees attended Wednesday’s ceremony.
The murdered Rio de Janeiro councilor Marielle Franco, who campaigned against racism and poverty, was one of the three shortlisted Brazilians, along with deforestation critic Claudelice Silva dos Santos, and indigenous leader and environmentalist Chief Raoni.
A group of five Kenyan students who developed an app called i-Cut to help those affected by female genital mutilation (FGM) was shortlisted.
The Sakharov Prize is worth €50,000 Euros (US$ 55,600 dollars). The award stands for contributions in the field of human rights and freedoms, and it was awarded for the first time more than 30 years ago.
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