Chinese Dissidents Urge MEPs to Nominate Ilham Tohti for the Sakharov Prize

June, 2016


We are a group of Chinese dissidents, writers, academics and human rights lawyers, writing to ask for your support in nominating the Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti for the Sakharov Prize. Prof. Tohti was an expert in Economics and Xinjiang and Central Asian Studies at Central Minzu University in Beijing, and until his imprisonment, had for two decades sought equal economic, cultural, political, and religious rights for the 11-million Uyghurs, the indigenous population to China’s vast northwestern region. He was sentenced in September, 2014, to life in prison.

In China’s recent decades of rapid growth, the Uyghurs have not enjoyed equal opportunities economically and socially in their homeland. And worse, the Chinese government has used “anti-terrorism” as a pretext for more repressive policies and open discrimination against the Uyghurs. The use of arbitrary detention, severe punishment and excessive force have terrified the Uyghurs. As 2008 Sakharov Prize laureate, Ilham Tohti’s long-time friend Hu Jia pointed out in a VOA interview in 2014, “Ilham Tohti has been the only Uyghur inside China with voice and influence, and the Chinese authorities were furious whenever he spoke out. They do not want Uyghurs to have any voice. To imprison him, they charged him with separatism, which he was known to oppose.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Central Asia and East Europe recently to promote One Belt One Road. It reminds us of Ilham Tohti’s relevance and the importance of his ideals and work. China’s ethnic policies are reactionary, while Ilham Tohti represents the common good shared by all peoples.

We are deeply proud of Prof. Tohti, and cherish his rarity. We’re inspired by his determination to foster understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, and his belief in peaceful co-existence and in a free and democratic future for China.

Western governments and the European Union have condemned his persecution and raised his case in dialogues with China. In January, 2016, over 400 academics around the world called for his release. Recently Ilham Tohti was nominated for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award.

Nominating Ilham Tohti for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought would indicate strong European and international support for the pursuit of dialogue and harmony between peoples of different cultures, communities and political views. We hope to see the Sakharov Prize become an instrument for asserting universal values and bringing change.



Hu Jia, Sakharov Prize laureate in 2008, Beijing, People's Republic of China

Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer and activist, Washington, DC, USA

Liao Yiwu, laureate of Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, 2012, Berlin, Germany

Teng Biao, human rights lawyer, visiting fellow at US-Asia Law Institute, NYU, New York, USA

Tsering Woeser, Tibetan writer, poet, Beijing, People’s Republic of China

Wang Lixiong, author on Tibet and Xinjiang, People’s Republic of China

Su Yutong, journalist, Bonn, Germany

Yang Jianli, president, Initiative for China, Washington, DC, USA

Xia Yeliang, economist, Cato Institute, Washington, DC, USA

Zhou Fengsuo, student leader in 1989 democracy movement, San Francisco, USA

Wan Runnan, entrepreneur in exile since 1989, Paris, France.

Yaxue Cao, editor of, Washington, DC, USA