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VICTIMS OF COMMUNISM HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD LAUREATE

Ilham Tohti

Ilham Tohti is one of the most renowned Uyghur public intellectuals who is serving a life sentence in China for his advocacy for the Uyghur people. For over two decades, Tohti advocated tirelessly for a peaceful solution to end the repressive policies of the Chinese Communist Party and ethnic tensions in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, known by the Uyghur people as East Turkestan. He was born in 1969 in Xinjiang and began his studies in 1985 at the institution that is today the Central Minzu University in Beijing, known for minority studies. He eventually became a faculty member at the same university and a recognized expert on economic and social issues pertaining to Xinjiang and Central Asia. In order to make the economic, social, and developmental issues confronting the Uyghurs known to China’s wider population, Tohti established the Chinese-language website Uyghur Online in 2006, to foster dialogue and understanding between Uyghurs and Chinese on the Uyghur Issue. Tohti was summoned from his Beijing home and detained shortly after the July 2009 Ürümqi riots by the authorities because of his criticism of the Chinese government’s policies toward Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Tohti was released on August 23, 2009, after international pressure and condemnation. He was arrested again in January 2014, and sentenced to life in prison after a two-day show trial. The United States and international governments, including the EU, swiftly condemned his conviction and sentence. His work as a scholar and advocate has been widely acclaimed. Tohti is a recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, and the Sakharov Prize. Tohti’s daughter, Jewher Ilham, accepted the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s Human Rights Award on his behalf in 2020.