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Jailed Uyghur Scholar Earns Freedom Award

01 December, 2017

A jailed Uyghur professor was honored Thursday at a ceremony in the Netherlands.

Ilham Tohti was named the winner of Liberal International's Prize for Freedom.

Liberal International gives the award once each year to a person whom it says has worked to improve human rights and political freedoms.

A rights group fighting for Tohti's release from prison accepted the prize in his place.

Tohti, an economics professor, has spoken repeatedly about what he considered religious and cultural persecution of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority in China's northwest.

In this Feb. 4, 2013 file photo, Ilham Tohti, an outspoken scholar of China's Turkic Uighur ethnic minority, speaks during an interview at his home in Beijing, China.
In this Feb. 4, 2013 file photo, Ilham Tohti, an outspoken scholar of China's Turkic Uighur ethnic minority, speaks during an interview at his home in Beijing, China.

A Chinese court charged Tohti in September 2014 with promoting ethnic separatism. He was sentenced to life in prison after a two-day trial.

Following his jailing, the United States, European Union and the United Nations called for his release.

Liberal International, or LI, is a group of 100 liberal and progressive parties. It was formed in 1947.

LI Human Rights Committee chair, Markus Loening, said at the ceremony that Tohti had fought for democracy and rule of law in China.

"The Chinese government should feel ashamed," Loening said. "It is not protecting the rights of its citizens but instead putting them behind bars as soon as they speak up for human rights."

Marie Holzman helped to set up the Ilham Tohti Initiative following his jailing. She said on Thursday that receiving the award in his place was, in her words, "confirmation that the Chinese government can no longer sustain the pretense that no one cares about Ilham Tohti."

Tohti's daughter, Jewher Ilham, spoke by video to the gathering at Thursday's ceremony. She described her father as a man "known for his moderate positions and his desire to see different ethnic groups living together peacefully."

Jewher lives in the American state of Indiana.

In October 2016, Tohti received the Martin Ennals Award. The prize is a joint project of 10 rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The United Nations' human rights chief attended the ceremony honoring Tohti. China protested the attendance, saying the UN chief had "confused right and wrong" and "blatantly supported terrorists" by going to the event.

Radio Free Asia reported this story. VOA Learning English adapted the report with additional information from the Associated Press. George Grow was the editor.

RFA and VOA are each part of the U.S. government-supported Broadcasting Board of Governors.


Words in This Story

persecution - n. unfair or cruel treatment, especially because of race or religious or political beliefs

promote - v. to help (something) happen, develop, or increase

initiative - n. a plan or program that is intended to solve a problem

sustain- v. to show that (something) is true or correct

blatantly - adv. very obviously and offensively