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Press Release: World Uyghur Congress Calls for Release of Ilham Tohti

Press Release: World Uyghur Congress Calls for Release of Ilham Tohti

Press Release – For Immediate Release 
15 January 2024 
Contact: World Uyghur Congress
+49 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

On the 10th anniversary of the arrest of the renowned Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti by the Chinese authorities, the World Uyghur Congress calls for renewed attention to his case, advocating for his immediate release, as well as the release of countless Uyghur intellectuals and scholars currently detained.

‘’Ilham Tohti’s life imprisonment was the first sign of the repressive policies to be implemented in East Turkistan,’’ said WUC President Dolkun Isa. ‘’China’s decision demonstrated an absolute refusal to consider the concerns of the Uyghur people, and his fate warned the entire Uyghur society that even peaceful and moderate voices were no longer tolerated.’’

Professor Tohti, who diligently worked for two decades fostering dialogue and conciliation between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, was given a life sentence in September 2014 on fabricated charges following a two-day trial. Tohti was initially arrested in January 2014 and subsequently convicted of “inciting separatism” in a trial described as “a farce” by the PEN American Center. Amnesty International called the sentence “deplorable” with “no basis in reality,” and Human Rights Watch stated that his trial amounted to “an injustice of the highest order.” Tohti’s appeal was subsequently denied in November 2014.

More than 300 cases of Uyghur intellectuals and other Turkic cultural scholars, who have been detained, imprisoned, or forcibly disappeared, have been documented since 2016, according to the Uyghur Human Rights Project. In recent years, some of these cases have received wide coverage in the international press. UN Special Rapporteurs have also expressed alarm at the situations of Tashpolat Tiyip, Ilham Tohti, Yalqun Rozi and more recently of Qurban Mamut, Ekpar Asat and Gulshan Abbas. In September of 2023, the news of the life imprisonment of Uyghur scholar Dr. Rahile Dawut once again brought the global community’s attention to the plight of Uyghur scholars and intellectuals. 

Professor Ilham Tohti, who criticised oppressive policies against Uyghurs and wrote extensively on constructive approaches to overcoming unequal treatment between ethnic groups, remains an inspirational figure for the Uyghur community and a symbol of the peaceful struggle for basic rights. For his work, Professor Tohti has been awarded countless prizes and awards, including the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. In the same year, he also received the Freedom Award in absentia from Freedom House and, jointly with the Balkan-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Award from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). In December 2023, around 180 ministers, parliamentarians, rectors and professors nominated Ilham Tohti for the Nobel Peace Prize. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times since 2019, and was shortlisted for the prize in 2020 and 2023.