Uyghur Activist, Ilham Tohti, honoured with 2017 Weimar Human Rights Award
On 10 December 2017, the German city of Weimar awarded the 2017 Weimar Human Rights award to Uyghur rights activist Ilham Tohti, in a public ceremony coinciding with International Human Rights Day. Currently serving a life sentence for his criticism of the Chinese government, under the false charge of ‘separatism’, Ilham Tohti is one of China’s most prominent political prisoners. Tohti was honoured with the award in recognition of his work upholding the rights of the Uyghur people and promoting an understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.
Tohti is an academic and founder of Uyghur Online forum, who is an advocate of non-violence and of dialogue between Han Chinese majority and the Uyghur minority in order to improve relations and conditions for the Uyghur community. Tohti’s harsh sentencing in 2014, shows that the Chinese government is not interested in resolving these issues or establishing a dialogue between cultures. The charge of ‘separatism’ is especially strange as Tohti has always stated that the Xinjiang Autonomous Province, home to the majority of the Uyghur population, remain a part of the People’s Republic of China.
The city of Weimar has come under fire from the People’s Republic of China since announcing Tohti as the winner of the award in July 2017. The Chinese Embassy protested the award, has engaged with Weimar’s Mayor, Stefan Wolf, to prevent the award from being given and also many web pages with information about the award have been deleted.
Tohti’s dedication to Human Rights has been recognised by other prestigious awards; he was a candidate for the 2016 European Parliament Sakharov Prize and he was awarded the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.The decision of the city of Weimar to recognise Tohti with its human rights award is incredibly important as it ensures that Tohti’s plight is not forgotten. This recognition raises awareness of the conditions suffered by the Uyghur communities and also highlights the human rights violations by the Chinese government towards the Uyghur people and peaceful dissidents.
The award was accepted at the ceremony by the Ilham Tohti Initiative and the Society for Threatened Peoples.