(Strasbourg) “Don’t cry. Don’t let them think Uyghur girls are weak”. These are the last words spoken by Ilham Tohti to his daughter, Jewher Ilham, as he was arrested at Beijing Airport by the Chinese police in 2013. The Uyghur economist, pacifist and defender of the rights of the minority to which he belongs has been awarded the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. His daughter made a brief but intense speech, much applauded by MEP, as she received the prize in Strasbourg on his behalf. “My father was beaten, questioned and now carries a life sentence at some undisclosed location. 2017 was the last time my family received word about him. While I don’t know where my father is, I believe he’s alive”. He has devoted his life to fostering peaceful dialogue. Since April 2017, more than a million Uyghurs have been arrested and thrown into prison camps in China where they are forced to renounce their ethnic identity and religious beliefs, and pledge loyalty to the Chinese government. “I remember my father” working at my bedroom desk. He used to tell me: “if you see a problem, please work towards a solution”. He “has committed himself to defending the rights” of my people, leaving aside his university career. He “was not afraid of being poor” or being arrested. We ask the Chinese government for peaceful dialogue and a chance to live according to our traditions. That’s all we ask for”.
The young woman now lives in Washington DC. “Even in my home – she said- my phone and computer is often hacked. Yes, I am afraid. I am here today to support my father” and the release of all Uyghur detainees in China. It is necessary to defend their human rights and for this reason “I appeal to the European Parliament”. Jewher Ilham also recalls that “many people are deprived of their freedoms in China: Kazakhs, Christians, Muslims, Tibetans. Think of what is happening in Hong Kong…”. “What can the EU do?”, she is asked. “I am not a politician. I am a recent graduate. But I would say that at least sanctions could be imposed on businesses and persons who support concentration camps in China. We must put political pressure on the Chinese government. And support those Uyghurs seeking protection in the West”.