On July 23, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation hosted the Captive Nations Week Summit, providing an opportunity for policymakers and human rights advocates to hear first-hand from witnesses of the captive nations of China, including East Turkestan, Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, and Tibet.
We awarded the Victims of Communism Human Rights Award to Ilham Tohti, Uyghur activist and economist serving a life sentence in China for advocating for regional autonomy in Xinjiang. His daughter, Jewher Ilham, will accept the award on his behalf.
Ilham Tohti, Victims of Communism Human Rights Award Recipient
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, who will receive the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s Human Rights Award on his behalf, is the author of “Jewher Ilham: A Uyghur’s Fight to Free Her Father.”
- Rushan Abbas, Founder, Campaign for Uyghurs
- The Honorable Robert A. Destro, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, United States Department of State
- Jewher Ilham, Human rights activist and daughter of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti
- The Honorable Jim McGovern, United States House of Representatives, D-MA
- The Honorable Marco Rubio, United States Senate, R-FL
- Marion Smith, Executive Director, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
- Enghebatu Togochog, Director, Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center
- Bhuchung K. Tsering, Vice President, International Campaign for Tibet
- Nury Turkel, Commissioner, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
- Ray Wong, Founder, Hong Kong Indigenous