I’m Hu Jia, the Sakharov laureate in 2008, writing from Beijing. In March 2015 I had a secret meeting with President Martin Schulz in Beijing, and I told him about Ilham Tohti, and how I hope that he be considered for the Sakharov Prize for his courage and suffering. He is, without a doubt, the most qualified person in today’s China to receive this prestigious prize.
In mid-July this year during the EU-China Summit in Beijing, I met, again secretly, with Ms. Mogherini and asked her to hand a letter to President Tusk. I wrote, “if I were to meet you and meet you for only one minute, I’d use those 60 seconds to tell you about one Chinese citizen: Ilham Tohti.”
The student democracy movement that swept throughout China in 1989 had a profound impact on the choices Ilham Tohti has made in his life, as he was a college student in the interior of China. I’m certain that you know the Tank Man who stood in front of the rolling tanks in Tiananmen Square; as the lone voice speaking out for the rights of the Uyghurs, Ilham Tohti is today’s Tank Man.
From 1989 onward, Europe has ridden itself of the virus of communism, but China remains the last fortress of the Communist empire, and is eroding freedoms elsewhere. But I'm convinced that China will be free one day, and that will be because of the struggle and sacrifices of people like Ilham Tohti. I believe that awarding the Sakharov Prize to him will help advance that process. The Prize will also help protect him from suffering the worst cruelties in prison, and may help set him free.
As the Dalai Lama to the Tibetans, the Uyghurs also need a spiritual leader whose vision, integrity, and reputation will inspire his people. That person is Ilham Tohti, and he is the hope for a dignified life for the 11 million Uyghurs.
In 2008, I was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” for my activities to promote human rights before the Olympic Games. When the European Parliament awarded me the Sakharov Prize, the political police and foreign ministry officials visited me in jail no fewer than 7 times, trying to force me to publicly denounce the Sakharov Prize. In exchange, they offered to reduce my sentence, and also pay me double the cash award of the SP. I flatly rejected these despicable political dealings. The episode shows how much pressure the Sakharov Prize is putting on the Chinese regime, and how frantically they were trying to thwart international support for those who risk it all to fight for freedom in China.
As you and your colleagues are set to vote for the Sakharov finalists and then the laureate, I’d like to ask you to spend 4 minutes to watch this video about Ilham Tohti, and know him better.
Oct 9, 2016, Beijing