Marie Holzman: ‘The European Parliament Should Award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti’

Translated From a Report Posted by RFA on October 16, 2015


Prof. Marie Holzman

Prof. Marie Holzman

Noted French Sinologist Prof. Marie Holzman, someone who knows Ilham Tohti, is calling on the European Parliament to award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham, a well-known Uyghur intellectual who has been sentenced to life in prison, and to speak out more forcefully on his behalf.

When Prof. Holzman, a noted French Sinologist, went to China as a student in the 1970s, she met several youths who at the time were opposing the Chinese dictatorship and struggling for democracy. Later on, the representative figure for this group of youths, Wei Jingsheng (魏京生), received a sentence of 15 years imprisonment. This spurred Prof. Holzman to become one of the Sinologists in the West who were constantly on the move, voicing appeals for Wei Jingsheng.

It’s likely that Prof. Holzman herself didn’t realize that over the course of the last half century or more, the thing that would show whether a Sinologist had a sense of social responsibility and an innate human sense of right and wrong would ultimately be whether or not he or she felt compelled to continuously speak out and continuously condemn the crimes of the dictatorship. And this is precisely what has come to symbolize Prof. Holzman’s life. Within European society, she has been an advocate for China’s persecuted for over 40 years. At the end of the 1980s she spoke out for the students and dissidents who were oppressed and victimized as a result of the Tiananmen massacre of 1989. At the end of the 1990s she spoke out for the imprisoned members of the Democracy Party of China and for those who belonged to faith groups. Most recently she has been speaking out for Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Ai Weiwei (艾未未), Gao Yu (高瑜) and others.

As reporters have learned in recent weeks, Prof. Holzman has been constantly on the go among the various European Union agencies, speaking out for the well-known Uyghur intellectual Ilham Tohti who has been locked up and imprisoned with a life sentence. Due to her activity a RFA reporter came to interview Prof. Holzman on the afternoon of the 16th.

During the interview Prof. Holzman first expressed her belief that the amount of attention being paid to Ilham by the international community is far too little. She asserted that European society therefore needed to be much more vocal. In that regard she said “I thank you for interviewing me. And the reason why I’m grateful for your interview is that at the moment there are really too few conversations in Europe about Ilham.”

Ilham Tohti

Ilham Tohti

Second, she believes that the Chinese Government’s sentencing of Ilham to life in prison was something quite rare; it was an illegal sentence rooted in a political goal. “Nowadays in China, people who have been sentenced to life in prison are exceptionally rare. There is, for instance, only Wang Bingzhang of the Democracy Party of China. Apart from that, I haven’t heard of any more cases which resulted in life sentences.”

Third, she knows Ilham and knows that he is someone who values peace; that he is an intellectual who is particularly moderate. “Ilham is someone whom we in the West can more or less understand because he has traveled to France and other countries. He has spoken with us. We’ve also seen the articles he’s written. The impression he’s given us has consistently been that of a moderate intellectual. This is absolutely the truth of the matter.”

Fourth, she holds that what Ilham accords particular importance to is mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence between the Han and Uyghur nationalities as well as both nationalities’ enjoyment of basic rights. “His goal is to calm the contradictions between China’s Uyghur and Han nationalities. He believes that we can all live together peacefully. Of course this is under certain conditions. The current conditions are insufficient to allow an Uyghur to have a happy life.

For this reason Prof. Holzman is calling upon the European Parliament to award its annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti. “Thus, we feel that his views are fully in accord with the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Because Andrei Sakharov himself was actually a Soviet dissident, he advocated and stressed peaceful dialogue.”



Professor Ilham Tohti Calls for Family to Appeal His Case, October 16, 2015.

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen, April 2014.

Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations, May 2015.

(Translation provided by Prof. Elliot Sperling)


2 responses to “Marie Holzman: ‘The European Parliament Should Award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti’”

  1. fuhualing says:

    Attention that has been received by Ilham Tohti pales in comparison with that received by human rights lawyers.

  2. […] Marie Holzman: ‘The European Parliament Should Award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to …, October 16, 2015. […]

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