This article was first published in China Change website on November 8, 2017
The city of Weimar announced on June 30 that, in compliance with the Weimar City Council’s recommendation, they were awarded this year’s Weimar Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti in recognition of his work upholding the rights of the Uighur people and promoting understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. In accordance with tradition, the Prize is awarded every year on December 10—International Human Rights Day.
The Weimar City Council, in announcing the award, said: “As a professor of economics and sociology at the Central University for Nationalities (Minzu), for decades Ilham Tohti spared no effort in publicizing the economic and social difficulties faced by Uighurs in Xinjiang. At the same time he advocated the peaceful coexistence of Uighurs, Hans and all other ethnic minority groups. He urged the Chinese government to respect its Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.”
In September 2014, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison for “separatist activities,” and his real “crimes” though were his efforts to build bridges between different ethnic minorities and his speaking out bluntly about China’s draconian, unproductive policies in Xinjiang. The Weimar City Council hopes that by awarding the Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti, “his advocacy for peace and dialogue will not be forgotten, and support for his release will be strengthened.”
Mr. Oehme is in charge of the Weimar Human Rights Prize. He told Radio Free Asia that, starting in early July and shortly after the prize was announced, the city’s official website was attacked and continues to be until now. All news about the award and the December 10 prize ceremony has been removed. Mr. Oehme said that the Weimar government deeply regrets that hackers have deleted the content from the webpage that has been three years in the making.
Mr. Oehme also revealed that the City Council’s Human Rights Prize Committee received a telephone call in July from a self-identified “Ms. Li” from the Chinese Embassy in Berlin, alleging that Ilham Tohti’s work had nothing to do with human rights and freedom of speech. She protested Weimar giving the human rights prize to a “Chinese criminal.”
The Weimar municipal government also learned that, after the announcement of the prize, Beijing had protested to Berlin through diplomatic channels.
The Weimar government asked the police to conduct a criminal investigation into the hacking. It’s not yet clear where the cyber attacks originated. But Isa Dolkun, current General Secretary of the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich, believes that this attack is undoubtedly being carried out by China.
Mr. Oehme said that no matter what happens, there will be no change in awarding this year’s human rights prize to Ilham Tohti.
In advocating with partners for Ilham Tohti’s case in Europe over the past two years, China Change has learned that ethnic minority issues are something the European countries face, and they take very well Ilham Tohti’s advocacy for ethnic minority autonomy, dignity and peaceful coexistence. This is undoubtedly the consensus among all civilized countries.
The Chinese government’s irrational attack on and interference with the Weimar Human Rights Prize shows how essential this award is, what a dire situation Ilham Tohti faces in China, and what an awful government there is in Beijing.
To be honest, it is fortuitous that the Chinese Communist Party is committing such foolish acts all over the world. This has a much more powerful effect than our earnest remonstrations.
Not to mention that the city of Weimar will be forever spared of a statue of Marx like the one that now stands at a corner of the city of Trier, Germany, a gift from China.
Before he was arrested, 48-year-old Ilham Tohti was a professor at the Central University of Nationalities, teaching and researching Xinjiang issues and Central Asian sociology, economics, and geopolitics. In 2006, Ilham Tohti founded the UighurBiz website, a Mandarin website that brought news about the Uighurs to the Chinese population. In January 2014, Ilham Tohti was arrested, his house searched and bank account was frozen. In September of the same year, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Urumqi for the crime of secession. He is presently serving his sentence in Xinjiang’s Number One Prison. He is in solitary confinement, and his application for a retrial has been rejected. Family visits have been limited. His family has been warned not to give interviews to foreign media. All of these practices are illegal under Chinese law and aimed at eliminating all news of Ilham Tohti.
In 2016 Ilham Tohti was nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and he won the city of Geneva’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, known as the “Nobel Prize for Human Rights.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein gave the award to Ilham Tohti’s daughter. The Chinese government subsequently attacked the High Commissioner for “interfering with China’s internal affairs and judiciary sovereignty.”