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For Immediate Release: 18:00 CET

Date: 3 August 2021

Subject: EU/China Dispute over Ilham Tohti

Contact: Enver Can, +491738912048, enver.can@web.de

The Ilham Tohti Initiative e.V. (ITI) welcomes the European Union’s insistence to see a number of imprisoned Uyghur intellectuals, including Prof. Ilham Tohti, during an upcoming diplomatic visit to Urumchi. The EU’s request to visit the Sakharov Award Laureate for “Freedom of Thought“ is interpreted as an indication of a new, more assertive policy of the European Union towards China.

The EU’s request was rejected by China and provoked an angry reaction from the Xinjiang government. At a press Conference last Friday, Xu Guixiang, a spokesman for the Xinjiang government, accused the European Union, saying “Wanting to talk to Ilham and other criminals is disrespectful to China’s sovereignty. China does not support visits on the basis of this mindset and these requirements.”

Prof. Tohti was unjustly sentenced to life in prison for “separatism” – a notion he vehemently opposed – in 2014 following a two-day show trial in an Urumchi Intermediate Court. Before his imprisonment, Prof. Tohti was an economist at Minzu University of China and an outspoken critic of relations between Uyghurs and the Han majority. Thus, he advocated ethnic harmony amongst nationalities including the Han and the Uyghur people. The CCP aimed to silence him through imprisonment, but the Uyghur scholar is now better known by the international community than ever before.

The UN, the EU, various democratic governments, thousands of academics and human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, have condemned his imprisonment and have called for his immediate release. Additionally, Prof. Tohti has been awarded with more than 10 international human rights awards since his arrest – the most prestigious among them being the Sakharov Award for „Freedom of Thought”, which he received 2019. He has also repeatedly been a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

China’s reaction to the recent request by the EU to see Ilham Tohti raises the question about what Beijing is trying to hide from the international community. Diplomatic visits to Xinjiang are rarely granted and tightly controlled, with unofficial trips often being met with police interference.

Mr. Xu has stated that China is “giving a lot of attention” to the effort to host senior European diplomats and that they will provide as much convenience and access as possible. He furthermore expressed hope that people from across the international community will have the chance to visit Xinjiang. However, observers have cast doubt over the sincerity of Beijing’s invitation to international observers to the Uyghur region in order to observe what is really happening to the Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims at the so called “Re-education” Camps.

There is also growing international concern about both the physical and mental health of Prof. Ilham Tohti, as there has not been any family visitation for the last 5 years and he has been kept incommunicado and in a solitary confinement at Prison No.1 in Urumchi. The fact that the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mr. Liu Xaobo passed away in prison without proper treatment and the recent deaths of many former Uyghur inhabitants of the internment camps shortly after their release fuels the concern about the fate of Prof. Tohti.

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