On the occasion of the International Day for Human Rights, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), in cooperation with the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), Ilham Tohti Initiative (ITI) and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen convened a conference in the Bayrischer Landtag in Munich on 12 December 2016. Entitled “Ilham Tohti and the Situation of the Human Rights of the Uyghur”, the conference brought together a variety of researchers, experts and representatives of diaspora movements to discuss the pressing issue of Uyghur intellectual Ilham Tohti’s unjust imprisonment, how this represented a wider deprivation of fundamental human rights for the Uyghur, and what concrete steps must be taken to achieve peaceful coexistence between Han Chinese and Uyghurs.
Enver Can, President of the Ilham Tohti Initiative opened the conference alongside the host Margarete Bause, Leader of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in the Bayrischer Landtag, who reminded the audience that she intends to continue to support the Uyghur cause in the future, aiming to raise the subject it at the Bundestag. Among the speakers in the first session, moderated by Dolkun Isa, executive chairman of the World Uyghur Congress, Louisa Greve, Vice-President of the National Endowment for Democracy gave some opening remarks on how it is our duty to make Ilham Tohti, and his peaceful advocacy and ideas known all over the world. This was then followed by opening remarks by Ulrich Delius of the Society for Threatened Peoples, where he explained how the conference wasn’t just about Ilham Tohti, but how he represents all Uyghurs, and his calls for the Chinese government to take the Chinese constitution and law seriously resonate with the community. UNPO’s Advocacy Officer, Lucia Parrucci, in turn, remarked that politicians, as well as the wider public, fear what they don’t know and it is the duty of all NGOs in particular, UNPO and the Ilham Tohti Initiative, which was launched at the event, to make the case of Ilham Tohti known, and fight for his release.
Among the first round of speakers, Prof. Marie Holzman, Vice-President of the Ilham Tohti Initiative, introduced the Ilham Tohti Initiative, explaining its commitment to promote Tohti’s ideals of peaceful coexistence between Uyghur and Han Chinese based on mutual respect, equality and rule of law and to promote them internationally to achieve freedom, equality, democracy, peace and stability for the Uyghur people. To complement this, Wuer Kaixi, a Chinese dissident of Uyghur heritage known for his leading role during the Tiananmen protests of 1989, pointed out that all of us peaceful dissidents like Ilham Tohti but also His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Hong Kong Movement and the Labour movement asked for dialogue, but it is China that has systematically rejected it.
Nury Turkel, lawyer and President of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, opened the roundtable discussion on how Ilham Tohti’s ideas can help the realisation of peaceful cohabitation between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, focusing on the role the US can play by taking leadership to create one voice to promote freedom in China. Tienchi Martin-Liao, President of Independent Chinese PEN Centre in Cologne, expressed how Ilham Tohti’s thinking on how to promote freedom and prosperity is not only important for the Uyghurs and the Chinese, but deserves respect on a global scale and we must all stand up and call for him to be released. In response to this, Hanno Schedler of the Society for Threatened People, echoed Ms Tienchi’s call for direct action, by stating we need to stop electing politicians that are adopting silent diplomacy. Asgar Can, President of the East Turkestan Union in Europe, added that we also need to urge politicians to stop turning a blind eye to China’s human rights violation for the benefit of trade.
Can then congratulated and thanked Ursula Gautier, French journalist at the Nouvel Obervateur, for taking direct action by attempting to report from East Turkestan, for which she was expelled from China. Gautier went on to give a first-hand account on the censorship of the press in China, and how any journalist can freely go to the region but will be followed, and are aware that if any local releases a statement to them you would be putting them in grave danger. Therefore, she called on readers to show their support for the Uyghur people by expressing themselves on the comment section of articles, since governments are reluctant to speak out on their behalf. Sheng Zue, President of the Federation on a Democratic China, made the important point of not wasting time trying to seek dialogue with the Chinese government, stressing how Uyghurs should spread their message through mainstream media, with Ilham Tohti as a representative figure of the Uyghurs non-violent requests.
Overall, the conference discussed the urgent need for the international community to express support and speak out for Ilham Tohti and the Uyghur people. The speakers agreed on how the media and politicians from around the world need to take concrete action, and do so publically, so as to bring the plight of the Uyghur people and Ilham Tohti’s peaceful calls for freedom, democracy and equality to the forefront. UNPO condemns the shameful behaviour of the Chinese authorities on this issue and call upon organisations and civil society to join us in supporting the plight of Ilham Tohti and the Uyghur people. Today, the European Parliament tabled an emergency resolution regarding the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Academy and Ilham Tohti and UNPO strongly hopes the European Parliament will join UNPO in publically denouncing the human rights violations taking place in China today.