Ilham Tohti

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Name: Ilham Tohti

Country/Area of Origin: China

Background: Ilham Tohti is a Chinese Uyghur and former professor of economics at Minzu University in Beijing, China. He is a staunch advocate of regional autonomy legislation and an avid researcher of the relationship between Chinese Uyghurs and Han Chinese- in 2006, Tohti launched UyghurOnline, a website focusing on these issues.

Reason for Arrest:

The Chinese government has historically monitored the actions of Tohti and have repeatedly accused him of using his position as a university professor to promote separatism and discuss issues in Xinjiang Province. Tohti’s website has been repeatedly shut down by government authorities, and briefly was summoned and subsequently disappeared in 2009 following a conflict between Uyghurs and Han in the capital of Xinjiang, but he was released after a few months.

In January 2014, Tohti was arrested once again following a raid on his apartment by authorities, during which they inspected his various belongings. In September, Tohti was charged with “separatism” and received a life sentence in prison.

Latest Updates:

  • On 23 March 2021, an ethnic-Turkish Bulgarian Member of Parliament, Ilhan Kyuchyuk, revealed that China has placed sanctions on him, which he believes is in response to his participation in nominating Ilham Tohti for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
  • On 17 March 2021, it was reported that an upcoming visit of European Union ambassadors to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region had been obstructed because the European diplomats requested to meet with Tohti. China’s ambassador to the EU called this request “unacceptable”.
  • In December 2019, Ilham Tohti’s daugter, Jewher Ilham, received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on behalf of her father. She stated that she has not heard any news from him since 2017.