This Sakharov Prize is awarded at a moment where the EU-China relations have never mattered more, to so many. The EU is China’s biggest trading partner and trade in goods between the EU and China is worth well over €1.7 billion a day.
The decision by the European Parliament to award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti, an advocate for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority, is a reminder that the friendship of the EU cannot be acquired only by blooming trade and soaring profits. We need more. The citizens in Europe and China deserve more. Human rights, democracy and rule of law are under threat everywhere, if they are under threat somewhere.
The European Parliament awards the Sakharov Prize to those who dedicate their lives to the peaceful struggle for human rights. Ilham Tohti is a steadfast defendant of justice and freedom in the harshest of circumstances. During mass internment and systematic abuse of the Uyghur population, he has advocated for reconciliation. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014.
According to some estimates 2 million Uyghurs and other minorities have been arbitrarily detained in a network of internment camps. A web of sites that lies outside the reach of law, operates without trials and with reported widespread torture, is a stain on a nation that purports to be our partner.
This Prize ought to serve as an opening for a dialogue that is long overdue.