Human Rights – Uighurs / Sakharov Prize
Wall Street Journal
Review & Outlook
A Win for the Uighurs
Europe bestows its Sakharov prize on an imprisoned economist.
By The Editorial Board
Oct. 25, 2019 7:03 pm ET
This week a human-rights activist languishing in the Chinese gulag was awarded Europe’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after the famous Soviet nuclear physicist-turned-dissident. China’s response tells you why the man deserved it. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman accused the European Parliament of intervening in China’s internal affairs and celebrating “a terrorist.”
The man’s name is Ilham Tohti. By profession he is an economist. Today he is one of the more than a million Uighurs—an ethnic Muslim minority in Xinjiang Province—who have been rounded up and detained in China’s internment camps.
In 2014 Mr. Tohti was arrested and charged with “separatism.” In a statement he gave to Radio Free Asia to be released upon his arrest, he said the only things he ever asked for are “human rights, legal rights, autonomous regional rights, and equality.” The Uighur people, he said, also have a right to be treated with dignity, and not have their culture erased.
It can be tempting to dismiss these awards as empty symbolic gestures, but China doesn’t make that mistake. When the Nobel Committee in 2010 awarded its peace prize to imprisoned democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, it went bananas and took its displeasure out on trade with Norway.
President Xi Jinping and his fellow Communists appreciate that with this prize Europe is directing the world’s attention to China’s larger assault on the Uighur people. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called this assault “reminiscent of the 1930s.” The U.S. government has begun to take a stronger line on behalf of the Uighurs, imposing sanctions on the Chinese officials who are responsible. Good to see Europe join in.