Uighur Muslim activist Ilham Tohti conferred Martin Ennals human rights award

Ilham Tohti, a Chinese scholar jailed for fighting for the rights of the Muslim Uighur people.

Martin Ennals Award
Chinese scholar Ilham Tohti YouTube grab

Ilham Tohti, a Chinese scholar jailed for fighting for the rights of the Muslim Uighur people, has been awarded the prestigious annual Martin Ennals Award, the organisers said on Tuesday.

Tohti, who is an ethnic Uighur, was one of the three finalists, including the Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh and the so-called Zone 9 Bloggers of Ethiopia, for the Martin Ennals Award. The jury for the award includes 10 activist groups like Amnesty International.

The prize was first awarded to Chinese dissident Harry Wu in 1994.

According to Reuters, the jury said: "A renowned Uighur intellectual in China, Ilham Tohti has worked for two decades to foster dialogue and understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese."

"He has rejected separatism and violence, and sought reconciliation based on a respect for Uighur culture, which has been subject to religious, cultural and political repression in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region," it added.

Tohti has fought relentlessly for the rights of the Muslim Uighur people. Muslim Uighur people complain of restriction on religion and culture and say that they have been denied equal economic opportunities. On 2014 Tohti was detained after a two-day trial on separatism charges. This act garnered severe criticism as it was clear that the Chinese government wants to suppress the dissent of the Uighur people.

Meanwhile, the government in Beijing has dismissed the award claiming that Tohti's "crimes are clear".

"In the classroom, Ilham Tohti openly made heroes of terrorist extremists that conducted violent terror attacks. He also used his position as a lecturer to entice and coerce some people to form a group to promote and participate in East Turkestan separatist forces' activities." Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a media briefing, according to the news agency.

"Ilham Tohti has nothing to do with human rights," he added.