Ilham Tohti, an Uyghur citizen-journalist and academic currently serving a life sentence in China, is among the nominees for the Council of Europe’s Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. The winner will be announced on Monday September 30th at the opening of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has since urged to cancel the nomination that he sees as a support to “extremist terrorism”.
“Ilham Tohti has committed no crime and was merely doing his duties of a journalist by reporting on the Uyghur community” said Cédric Alviani, the head of Reporters Without Border (RSF) East Asia Bureau, who called for “the immediate release of Ilham Tohti and all other journalists and bloggers imprisoned by the Chinese regime.”
Tohti founded Uyghurbiz, a website reporting news on Uyghur-related issue that is aimed at promoting peaceful dialogue between different communities in China’s Xinjiang province. He was branded a separatist and received a life sentence in 2014. Tohti was awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 2014 and the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2016.
China is the largest prison in the world for journalists, with at least 115 detainees, and ranks 177th out of 180 countries and territories in the RSF World Press Freedom Index 2019.