The World Uyghur Congress recognizes the tremendous work by civil society and states to finally allow for Liu Xia, the widow of dissident Liu Xiaobo, to leave China for freedom abroad. The German government played an instrumental role in pressing for her release along with much of the rest those supporting human rights protections in China.
Liu Xia was under house arrest since October 2010, when Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and after his death, Chinese authorities kept her under close scrutiny, although she was never charged with a crime.
China’s treatment of dissidents and critics has been well-documented for decades. Less so, however, has been the research and coverage of Uyghur who have defied Chinese authorities. Uyghur religious and cultural leaders, artists and other prominent voices have all faced harsh censure from Chinese authorities—many detained for supporting the most basic human rights.
WUC President, Dolkun Isa, stated that, “There are important lessons to be learned from the release of Liu Xia, and that’s that sustained pressure from the international community is required to see concrete results”. Isa continued, “China has to understand that the business-as-usual approach of holding dissidents will lead to more problems, not less.”
Efforts from the international community must now turn their renewed attention to figures like Ilham Tohti, who was charged in September 2014 to life in prison after a two-day sham trial for his efforts at bringing together Uyghur and Chinese citizens for dialogue in China. The eventual charge of “separatism” holds no more weight than charges applied to Liu Xiaobo and many others.
Although these cases stand as one prominent example, countless more cases point to a consistent and systematic effort to undermine any critics of the government, however mild. Other cases include:
- Halmurat Ghopur, prominent Uyghur physician and academic, and president of the Department of Inspection and Supervision of the Xinjiang Food and Drug Administration, was reportedly taken from his office in Urumqi by police, along with his computer in November 2017.
- Adil Rishit, a Uyghur website administrator and administrator at the Uyghur Autonomous Region’s Department of Education, was arrested in 2016 along with Omerjan Hesen Bozqir, who also contributed to the website.
- Ekber Eset, founder of the Uyghur website “Bagdax” – which aimed at protecting the Uyghur language – was arrested in 2016.
- Tunyaz Osman, a Uyghur writer and legal researcher, and vice secretary at Aksu Prefecture’s Political and Legal Committee, was arrested in 2016.
- Tursunjan Muhemmet Marshal, former director of the Uyghur website “Misranim”, was arrested in 2016.
Ablimit Ghoja’Abdulla Uyghur, a Uyghur writer, was arrested in 2014 and imprisoned from six to eight years.
- Abdurazaq Sayim, a member of the Xinjiang Social Sciences Academy’s Party Committee since 2003 was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison.
- Nureli Obul, and Nijat Azat were all sentenced in 2010 to a total of 13 years for “endangering state security”.
- Gheyret Niyaz, a popular Uyghur journalist, was sentenced to 15 years for “endangering state security” in 2010.
- Gulmira Imin, who published poetry and short stories online was sentenced in 2009 to life in prison for “splittism, leaking state secrets, and organizing an illegal demonstration.”
- Popular Uyghur singer and musician Abdurehim Heyit was arrested in March 2017 for his performance of a song called Atilar, or “Forefathers.”
- Memetjan Abdulla was detained in July 2009 and accused of instigating rioting in the East Turkistan by posting on the Uyghur-language website Salkin.
- 19-year-old Uyghur Erfan Hezim—a former member of China’s national youth football team—was arrested and detained in a political indoctrination camp for “visiting foreign countries” after he traveled abroad to train and take part in matches.
Far less known cases like these will continue to fly under the radar as Tohti stands as an example of how one may be punished if they cross the line. In doing so, China continues to undermine its legitimacy as a major player in world affairs. Real leaders are open to dialogue and criticism as a means of moving forward, not backward.
It is now up to the international community to continue to join together to ensure that the Chinese government hurts, not helps, its own cause if it continues to hold Ilham Tohti—a true symbol of peace and reconciliation that we all desperately need.