Imprisoned Uyghur Scholar, Ilham Tohti, Wins Prestigious Human Rights Award

Press Release – For immediate release
12 October 2016
Contact: World Uyghur Congress
0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or


The World Uyghur Congress lauds the decision to award leading Uyghur intellectual, Ilham Tohti, the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders at a ceremony in Geneva yesterday. Professor Tohti was given a life sentence back in September 2014 on fabricated charges following a two-day trial. The award is chosen by a jury of ten of the world’s human rights NGOs, providing a great deal of institutional backing to Ilham Tohti’s efforts at fostering dialogue and harmony among peoples and the government in China.

Ilham Tohti served as a professor of economics at the Minzu University of China in Beijing where he specialized in research focusing on Uyghur-Chinese Relations, China’s ethnic policies and East Turkestan. Alongside his scholarship and teaching, Tohti was revered for establishing and maintaining Uyghur Online, a website dedicated to promoting Uyghur human rights and improved relations between Uyghur and Chinese people.

Tohti was arrested in January 2014 and subsequently convicted in September to life in prison at the Urumqi People’s Intermediate Court after just a two day trial. Since his initial arrest, he has been denied food on a number of occasions, and visits by family members have been strictly limited.

Professor Tothi’s daughter, Jewher Ilham, attended the ceremony in Geneva and accepted the award on her father’s behalf, mentioning in her speech that, “It is a sad state of affairs that there are so many worthy nominees and candidates”. Also shortlisted for the award were, Razan Zaitouneh, a Syrian campaigner who went missing in Damascus in 2013, and a group of Ethiopian activists known as the Zone 9 bloggers.

Jewher Ilham also described that, “Human rights defenders plunge into areas of severe repression and misery to try and do something to alleviate the conditions, all the while knowing that the threat arrest, imprisonment or worse are always lurking in the background.” In 2014, Jewher Ilham also accepted the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on behalf of her father prior to his sentencing.

Consistent efforts by the World Uyghur Congress and many others will be looking to maintain momentum following this award. The Ilham Tohti Initiative (ITI), which was founded in April 2016, has recently been working actively on his case in particular as a means to maintain pressure on the international community and to work for his eventual release.

The World Uyghur Congress would also like to thank UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who attended the ceremony and remarked during his speech, “Like the human rights defenders we are here to support and honour, we can stand up for others, voice the common good, act to support inclusion, equality and human dignity, we can guide our actions by our principles. I am convinced that service to our fellow human beings benefits all of us, that it meaningfully constitutes the only way to live.”

You can watch the full ceremony here.