Weekly Brief: December 20

World Uyghur Congress, 20 December 2019

Ilham Tohti is awarded the 2019 Sakharov Prize in the European Parliament in Strasbourg

On December 18, the European Parliament awarded the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to imprisoned Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti. His daughter, Jewher Ilham was present to accept the award on behalf of her father.

The Sakharov Prize is the top human rights award bestowed by the Parliament and the decision to award Ilham Tohti this year is a symbolically important act of support for the Uyghur people from the European Parliament.

“This is a huge victory for the Uyghur community and we are grateful to the European Parliament for awarding Ilham Tohti the Sakharov Prize,” said WUC President Dolkun Isa. “His life and ideals are an inspiration to the Uyghur people. His treatment was a precursor to the crimes against humanity that the Chinese government have been subjecting the Uyghur people since then.” WUC President was also present at the ceremony. 

As the six-year anniversary of his detention is approaching, Ilham Tohti still remains an inspirational figure for the Uyghur community and a symbol of the peaceful struggle for basic rights. His arrest and life imprisonment proved to be a tragic turning point in how the Chinese government has reacted to dissident voices. China’s decision demonstrated their absolute refusal to consider the concerns of the Uyghur people.

FC Arsenal Player Mesut Ozil shows support to the Uyghurs

Last week, FC Arsenal Player Mesut Ozil posted a message on his social media accounts raising awareness about the current crisis affecting the Uyghur people in China. An estimated 1-3 million innocent Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained in what are essentially concentration camps for the past two and a half years by the Chinese government. Mesut Ozil’s comments gave hope to the Uyghur people, that such a prominent football player and public figure had the courage to speak out about our suffering.

However, Arsenal Football Club quickly distanced themselves from Mesut Ozil’s words, saying that they had to be neutral and apolitical and that Ozil’s comments reflected only his opinions and not the views of Arsenal FC. While this may seem like an innocuous position, for the Uyghur people, it was just another example of China using its influence to silence any discussion of its repression against Uyghurs.

China is wielding its economy, promises of investment and market access to bully companies and organisations around the world into silence or compliance. We saw this earlier this year with the National Basketball Association, after the Chinese government tried to force the NBA to fire Houston Rocket’s CEO Daryl Morey for sending out one tweet expressing solidarity with democracy protestors in Hong Kong. In retaliation China cancelled numerous million-dollar trade deals and partnerships with the NBA and affiliated entities, assuming the NBA would cave and fire Daryl Morey and issue an apology. After the initially weak response, the NBA stood firm in defending its employees’ right to freedom of expression, despite the consequences. 

The European Parliament Passes a Strong Resolution on the Uyghur Crisis

On December 19, the European Parliament passed by an overwhelming majority a Resolution on the situation of the Uyghurs in China (China Cables) (2019/2945(RSP)). The passing of this resolution comes a day after Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti was awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament for his work.

This resolution echoes previous resolutions in calling for the camps to be closed, the practice of arbitrary detention against Uyghurs to end and urges the Chinese government to publish the names, status and current whereabouts of all those in the camps and otherwise arbitrarily detained. It also calls on the EU to do more to protect Uyghur residents and citizens in EU member states from harassment and intimidation by the Chinese government.

Importantly, the resolution welcomes the Council of the EU’s decision to start working to adopt a targeted sanctions regime and calls on the Council “to adopt targeted sanctions and asset freezes, should they be deemed appropriate and effective, against the Chinese officials responsible for devising and implementing the policy of mass detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and for orchestrating a severe repression.”

“We are very encouraged that human rights remain a priority for the European Union and that the Uyghur people have not been abandoned by the international community,” WUC President Dolkun Isa stated. “We look forward to the EU implementing the provisions of this resolution, which would have a real and meaningful impact on ending the suffering of the Uyghur people.

Many MEPs including Vice President of the EP Fabio Massimo Castaldo, MEPs Ilhan Kyuchyuk, Sophia in ‘t Veld, Michael Gahler, Kati Piri, Anna Fotygo, David Lega and many others also made strong statements on the issue.

This marks the third time in just over a year that the European Parliament has addressed the crisis in a resolution and demonstrates its and the EU’s resolve to take meaningful action to stop China’s crimes against humanity against Uyghurs.

FC Cologne Pull Out of Investment in China Football Academy

German Bundesliga Club FC Cologne are pulling out of a deal to run a football academy in China, with a member of the club council saying they shouldn’t support “such a totalitarian and brutal dictatorship”. The club council member went on to say that “making money at any cost” was not an option for the club, referring to “a complete surveillance state [that] is being built [in China], one worse than even George Orwell could have imagined.”

In the light of Arsenal FC’s regrettable reaction to Mesut Özil’s statements on the persecution of Uyghurs in China, this move by the German first division club is an encouraging sign that there are football teams who put human rights above empty threats from China and profit at any cost.

WUC Delegation Attends Ilham Tohti Panel Discussion in Berlin

On December 20, WUC President Dolkun Isa, WUC Head of Berlin Office Haiyuer Kuerban along with a delegation from the Uyghur diaspora attended a panel discussion on Ilham Tohti as the Sakharov Prize laureate organized by the Liaison Office of the European Parliament in Berlin, Germany. After the keynote speech by Prof. Tohti’s daughter, Jewher Ilham, a panel discussion with Reinhard Bütikofer, Member of the European Parliament, and Prof. Dr. Katrin Kinzelbach from the Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, ensued.

Mr. Bütikofer reiterated that the current political and social pressure on China to end the systematic persecution of Uyghurs after the leaks of the China Cables, American sanctions and the European Parliament’s resolution needs to be stepped up even more in order to overcome the widespread wariness to call China out on their human rights violations. Prof. Dr. Kinzelbach added to this argument that this wariness, leading to self-censorship, prevails even in academic circles in democratic nations. Awarding Ilham Tohti the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize brings the needed attention for the international community to push towards a future where Uyghur rights will be respected.