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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Ilham Tohti


Detained Since: January 15, 2014.

Charges: Seperatism.

Sentence: Life in prison.

Biography: Ilham Tohti is a Uyghur economics professor at Beijing’s Minzu University, where he was known for his research on Uyghur-Han relations as well as his activism for the implementation of regional autonomy laws in China.

In 2006, Tohti founded UighurOnline, a Chinese-language website devoted to fostering understanding between Uighur and Han people, China’s dominant ethnic group. In 2008, authorities shut down his website citing the websites links to Uyghur “extremists” abroad. After the July 5, 2009 ethnic rioting between Uyghurs and Han in Ürümqi, Tohti’s whereabouts were unknown after he had been summoned from his home in Beijing. Tohti was subsequently released on August 23, 2009 after international pressure and condemnation.

Tohti was again arrested in January 2014, after police raided his apartment and confiscated his laptops, books, and papers. In September 2014, after a two-day trial, Tohti was found guilty of “separatism” and sentenced to life imprisonment in addition to all of his assets being frozen.

Advocacy Partner: Reporters Without Borders



  • Ilham Tohti: A Short Introduction. A call for the nomination of Ilham Tohti for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. (February 8, 2016, Sri Lanka Guardian) 
  • Ilham Tohti is a recipient of the 2016 Martin Ennals Award Laureate for Human Rights Defenders. This award is to provide protection through international recognition. (October, 11, 2016, Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders)
  • The Washington Post published a piece highlighting China’s dismal of Ilham Tohti receiving the 2016 Martin Ennals Award Laureate for Human Rights Defenders. (October 11, 2016, The Washington Post)
  • Ilham Tohti's daughter spoke out in support of her father's peaceful promotion of equal rights and greater autonomy for the Turkic speaking Uyghur ethnic group in China. (March 11, 2017, Radio Free Asia)
  • The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization conducted a joint interview about the case of Ilham Tohti at the European Parliament. (June 7, 2017, UNPO)
  • Ilham Tothi was awarded the Weimar Human Rights Prize for his commitments to the rights of Uyghurs in the Xinjang autonomous region. (July 3, 2017, UNPO) 
  • Jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti was honored at a ceremony in The Hague, where he was awarded Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom, given in absentia and accepted on his behalf by a rights group advocating for his release. (November 30, 2017, Radio Free Asia)
  • The EU delegation to China is extremely concerned about the denial to Chinese citizens of fundamental human rights, and has called for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders, including lawyer Jiang Tianyong and Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti. (December 9, 2017, Hong Kong Free Press)
  • Reports have surfaced that Ilham Tohti's wife and children will not be allowed to visit him in prison in 2018. (January 17, 2018, Radio Free Asia)
  • Gay McDougall, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, raised Mr. Tohti's case at a hearing in Geneva on conditions in Xinjiang. (August 13, 2018, New York Times)
  • Lawmakers of the bipartisan Congressional Executive Commission on China, led by Senator Marco Rubio, said that they intend to nominate Ilham Tohti for the Nobel Peace Prize. (October 11, 2018, Quartz)