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The City of Weimar in Germany Saw Its Website Attacked for Giving Human Rights Prize to Uighur Professor Ilham Tohti

China Change, November 8, 2017


Ilham weimar prize

Goethe and Schiller monument in Weimar.


The city of Weimar announced on June 30 that, in compliance with the Weimar City Council’s recommendation, they were awarding this year’s Weimar Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti in recognition of his work upholding the rights of the Uighur people and promoting understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese. In accordance with tradition, the Prize is awarded every year on December 10—International Human Rights Day.

The Weimar City Council, in announcing the award, said: “As a professor of economics and sociology at the Central University for Nationalities (Minzu), for decades Ilham Tohti spared no effort in publicizing the economic and social difficulties faced by Uighurs in Xinjiang. At the same time he advocated the peaceful coexistence of Uighurs, Hans and all other ethnic minority groups. He urged the Chinese government to respect its Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.”

Ilham Tohti_Lego

Lego portrait by Ai Weiwei.

In September 2014, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison for “separatist activities,” and his real “crimes” though were his efforts to build bridges between different ethnic minorities and his speaking out bluntly about China’s draconian, unproductive policies in Xinjiang. The Weimar City Council hopes that by awarding the Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti, “his advocacy for peace and dialogue will not be forgotten, and support for his release will be strengthened.”

Mr. Oehme is in charge of the Weimar Human Rights Prize. He told Radio Free Asia that, starting in early July and shortly after the prize was announced, the city’s official website was attacked and continues to be until now. All news about the award and the December 10 prize ceremony has been removed. Mr. Oehme said that the Weimar government deeply regrets that hackers have deleted the content from the webpage that has been three years in the making.

Mr. Oehme also revealed that the City Council’s Human Rights Prize Committee received a telephone call in July from a self-identified “Ms. Li” from the Chinese Embassy in Berlin, alleging that Ilham Tohti’s work had nothing to do with human rights and freedom of speech. She protested Weimar giving the human rights prize to a “Chinese criminal.”

The Weimar municipal government also learned that, after the announcement of the prize, Beijing had protested to Berlin through diplomatic channels.

The Weimar government asked the police to conduct a criminal investigation into the hacking. It’s not yet clear where the cyberattacks originated. But Isa Dolkun, current General Secretary of the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich, believes that this attack is undoubtedly being carried out by China.

Mr. Oehme said that no matter what happens, there will be no change in awarding this year’s human rights prize to Ilham Tohti.

In advocating with partners for Ilham Tohti’s case in Europe over the past two years, China Change has learned that ethnic minority issues are something the European countries face, and they take very well Ilham Tohti’s advocacy for ethnic minority autonomy, dignity and peaceful coexistence. This is undoubtedly the consensus among all civilized countries.

The Chinese government’s irrational attack on and interference with the Weimar Human Rights Prize shows how essential this award is, what a dire situation Ilham Tohti faces in China, and what an awful government there is in Beijing.

To be honest, it is fortuitous that the Chinese Communist Party is committing such foolish acts all over the world. This has a much more powerful effect than our earnest remonstrations.

Not to mention that the city of Weimar will be forever spared of a statue of Marx like the one that now stands at a corner of the city of Trier, Germany, a gift from China.



UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein gave MEA to Jewher Ilham in Geneva in October, 2016. Elliot Sperling (right), who passed away in January 2017, accompanied her. 


Before he was arrested, 48-year-old Ilham Tohti was a professor at the Central University of Nationalities (中央民族大学), teaching and researching Xinjiang issues and Central Asian sociology, economics, and geopolitics. In 2006, Ilham Tohti founded the UighurBiz website, a Mandarin website that brought news about the Uighurs to the Chinese population. In January 2014, Ilham Tohti was arrested, his house searched and bank account frozen. In September of the same year, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Urumqi for the crime of secession. He is presently serving his sentence in Xinjiang’s Number One Prison. He is in solitary confinement, and his application for retrial has been rejected. Family visits have been limited. His family has been warned not to give interviews to foreign media. All of these practices are illegal under Chinese law, and aimed at eliminating all news of Ilham Tohti.

In 2016 Ilham Tohti was nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and he won the city of Geneva’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, known as the “Nobel Prize for Human Rights.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein gave the award to Ilham Tohti’s daughter. The Chinese government subsequently attacked the High Commissioner for “interfering with China’s internal affairs and judiciary sovereignty.”




Ilham Tohti: A Short Introduction, June 15, 2016.

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen, Ilham Tohti, April 6, 2014.

Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations (downloadable), Ilham Tohti, May 19, 2015.

China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.




Political Prisoner’s Wife Beaten by Relatives Who Asked Her to Leave Husband

Yaxue Cao, November 1, 2017


Li Aijie and son, online


Li Aijie (李爱杰) is from Henan province, China’s central plains. She married a man named Zhang Haitao (张海涛) in Urumqi, Xinjiang, who moved from Henan to the far northwestern region in the 1990s seeking job opportunities after being laid off from a state-owned enterprise. He made a living trading in electronics. The couple were very much in love.

Embittered by personal injustices in the hands of authorities, he was attracted from 2009 onward to the thriving rights defense activism around the country. He partook in online forums that discussed democratic ideas; he volunteered for the human rights website Human Rights Campaign (“权利运动”); he signed a petition urging the Chinese government to abolish the extra-legal Reeducation Through Labor detention system; he gave interviews to Voice of America and Radio Free Asia on what he had observed on the streets of Urumqi. And so on.

张海涛He was arrested in 2014, and on January 15, 2016, he was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and “prying into and illegally supplying intelligence abroad” (为境外刺探、非法提供情报罪) and sentenced to 19 years in prison by the Urumqi Intermediate Court. The judgment cited 69 WeChat posts and 205 Twitter posts, including retweets of others’ tweet, as evidence of inciting subversion, and named Voice of America and Radio Free Asia as “hostile foreign websites.”

Li Aijie was pregnant when her husband was arrested. She gave birth to a little boy whom the father named “Little Mandela” (小曼德拉). She has since moved back to Henan to seek refuge in her hometown among relatives.

On April 19, 2017, with the help of activists, Li Aijie embarked on a journey of over 2,000 miles to visit her husband, who had been serving his sentence in Shaya Prison in the heart of Xinjiang on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert. She visited him again in late July after many calls asking permission from the prison, even though by Chinese law, prisoners are allowed only one family visit each month.

Her requests for visits since September have not come to fruition.

Zhang Haitao was jailed in solitary confinement to receive “education.” He described to his wife that the cell has a window that can let in air and a bit of sunlight. He stays in there all day and all night, and is not allowed yard time.

The first time she visited, the prison didn’t allow her to show and give him photos of his son. The second time they let her.

For the thousands of miles she traveled, they were allowed 30 minutes only at each of the two meetings.

Over the summer, she traveled to Beijing. She wanted to ask the Central Leadership to transfer Zhang Haitao to a prison in Urumqi for humanitarian reasons: to make her journeys to the prison one third shorter and easier to travel. At the Ministry of Justice, she said she never got past the gate. A person came out telling her to go to the Bureau of Calls and Letters (国家信访局). She went there and didn’t succeed in getting past the gate either.

Li Aijie, 被家人殴打On October 8 when Li Aijie visited her parents’ home, she was assaulted by her eldest brother and an older sister. They punched her on the face and the head. “Do you know how many times the police have talked to me?” the brother shouted at her according to her account. “What good is it to wait for Zhang Haitao? What does the future hold for you? Cut your relations with him! Stop going to Xinjiang!” “Look at the man you married!” The sister let out her anger. “You ruined yourself, now the whole family suffers from it, and you refuse to listen!”

They pushed her on the floor and kicked her. The elder brother was about to throw a chair at her when another brother stopped him.

Local authorities threatened the jobs of Li’s siblings if they don’t “rein her in.”

She wrote: “Am I wrong to love someone and wait for him? Visiting Haitao is my legal right. My son and I are the hope that Haitao lives for togets out of prison alive. I can’t leave him at a moment like this. I really can’t.” She said she’s never going to leave her husband, and asked those who interfered with her relationship to cease.

China Change has made considerable effort to bring Zhang Haitao’s case to the attention of our readers and the State Department. Among other things, we translated the entirety of the court decision to facilitate the evaluation of Zhang’s case. We argued that the U. S. government is obliged to defend its institutions when VOA and RFA—both funded by Congress— interviews are used as criminal evidence to imprison Chinese citizens.

A Call for Help

I spoke to a human rights lawyer in Henan, and Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁)—the founder and board director of Humanitarian China—spoke to Li Aijie herself for permission, which she gave, to raise money for her and her child to help cover her travels to Xinjiang.

If you want to help, you may make a donation to Humanitarian China stating the purpose of your contribution. Humanitarian China is a 501(c)(3) based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Humanitarian China has been providing financial support to political prisoners, their family members, and civil society activists in China since 2007. In the last few years it raised money for Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, independent journalist Gao Yu, the wife and children of Zhao Changqing, and the 709 human rights lawyers.

If you are a human rights organization with relief fund, please extend a helping hand to Li Aijie and her baby son. 


Disclaimer: Yaxue Cao, editor of this website, is a board member of Humanitarian China.



Activist in Xinjiang Sentenced to 19 Years for Online Writings and Rights Activities, Yaqiu Wang, January 21, 2016

Appeal Begins of Harsh 19-Year Prison Term Given Xinjiang-based Activist Zhang Haitao, Yaxue Cao, February 21, 2016

U.S. Government Must Intervene in Zhang Haitao’s Case, China Change, November 21, 2016

A Long Journey to Visit My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, Li Aijie, April 23, 2017

A Long Journey to Visit My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, Part Two, Li Aijie, April 29, 2017

Zhang Haitao Court Decision, a Full Translation by China Change

Zhang Haitao’s Appeal, a Translation by China Change





News About Uighur Scholar Ilham Tohti on the Third Anniversary of His Sentencing: No News

China Change, September 22, 2017

We believe that the combination of reduced visits, denial of communication, gag orders, and family reprisals, have been carefully engineered to punish the Uighur scholar with degrading treatment and psychological torture, while at the same time keeping the attention on his plight from the outside world to a minimum.


On October 10, 2016, Ilham Tohti’s daughter Jewher Ilham received Martin Ennals Human Rights Award from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on behalf of her father. The HC was later harassed by China for attending the ceremony and presenting the award. Professor Elliot Sperling accompanied Jewher.  Photo: Martin Ennals Foundation.


September 23, 2017, marks the 3rd anniversary of the Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti’s sentencing to life in prison for peacefully speaking out for the economic, cultural, political and religious rights of the 10 million Uighur people inhabiting the northwestern region known as Xinjiang.

A Summary of the Case

Ilham Tohti is the most renowned Uighur intellectual in the People’s Republic of China. For over two decades he has worked tirelessly to foster dialogue and understanding between Uighurs and Chinese over the present-day repressive religious, cultural and political conditions exercised against the Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic people living mostly in modern China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. As a result of his efforts he was sentenced to life in prison in September 2014 following a two-day show trial. Despite political persecution in the years leading up to his trial, he remained a voice of moderation and reconciliation.

Ilham was born in 1969 in Atush, Xinjiang, and began his studies in 1985 at the institution that is today the Central Minzu University in Beijing, long known for studies of minorities. He eventually became a faculty member at the same university and a recognized expert on economic and social issues pertaining to Xinjiang and Central Asia. As a scholar, he has been forthright about problems and abuses in Xinjiang, and his work led to official surveillance and harassment that began as early as 1994. From time to time he was barred from teaching, and after 1999 he was unable to publish in mainstream venues in China.

In order to make the economic, social, and developmental issues confronting the Uighurs known to China’s wider population, Ilham established the Chinese-language website in 2006 to foster dialogue and understanding between Uighurs and Chinese on the Uighur Issue. Over the course of its existence it was shut down periodically and people writing for it were harassed. Ilham Tohti has adamantly rejected separatism and sought reconciliation by bringing to light Uighur grievances, information the Chinese state has sought to keep behind a veil of enforced silence.

Following massive Chinese repression in Xinjiang in 2009, Professor Tohti was taken into custody for weeks for posting information on Uighurs who had been arrested, killed and “disappeared.” In subsequent years he was subjected to periodic house arrests and barred from leaving the country.

The show trial three years ago convicted Ilham Tohti of the crime of “separatism.” The court decision, which has never been made public in full, cited interviews with overseas Uighur, Chinese and English-language media outlets, his commentaries on events in, or concerning, the Uighurs and Xinjiang, his criticism of Chinese government’s ethnic policies, and his work with his students in founding and running the Chinese-language website, which had been repeatedly suspended and, after its server was moved to overseas, endured denial of service attacks until its complete shutdown in early 2014.

In words and actions, Ilham Tohti has for years promoted peace and dialogue between the Han Chinese and Uighur communities. He opposed separatism, the use of terror to voice grievances, and any acts that fan ethnic animus, as well as government policies that undermine the Uighur language and economically marginalize the Uighur people. As a Uighur intellectual specializing in Xinjiang issues and Central Asian sociology, economics, and geopolitics, he took it upon himself to critique current affairs concerning Xinjiang and its people, faithfully fulfilling the duty of a public intellectual.

Ilham Tohti is the recipient of the Barbara Goldsmith “Freedom to Write” Award from the PEN America Center in 2014, and the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2016. He was one of the four nominees for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2016. This summer Ilham Tohti received the 2017 Human Rights Award from the city of Weimar in Germany.

Conditions of Imprisonment

Ilham Tohti has been serving life in prison in the First Prison of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Reginon in Urumqi since December 2014 after his appeal was dismissed and sentence upheld without a court hearing on November 21, 2014.

  • Visits: Since then, he has been allowed to receive only one family visit every three months, whereas Chinese law allows one visit per month. Each visit lasts less than one hour. In meetings, Ilham and relatives are not allowed to speak about anything except “family matters.” We estimate that, from the time he first received family visit in prison in June 2015 to the present, Ilham Tohti has received a total of less than 10 hours visitation over the span of more than two years. This is a calculated and cruel deprivation.
  • Solitary confinement: Until at least early 2016, Ilham Tohti’s wife said he had been held in solitary confinement. Since then there has been no update on whether this is still the case.
  • Right to communication: He has been deprived of the right to communicate with family and friends. Letters sent by his wife have not been received, nor has she ever received letters from him.
  • Gag order: From the first few visits in 2015 and early 2016, we were able to get brief updates on Ilham’s condition by the brothers and wife who visited him. But such updates have since dried up completely. It seems that relatives have received a gag order from the authorities, not even telling intermediaries who could then relay information to media outlets. His wife last spoke to Radio Free Asia in late summer of 2016 and was promptly visited by state agents afterwards. Ilham’s daughter, who currently studies at Indiana University, found herself cut off from family circles on Chinese social media and has been unable to gather information about her father’s condition.
  • Request for retrial (申诉, shen-su) suppressed: In late 2015 and early 2016, Ilham Tohti urged his relatives to apply for a retrial (shen-su). Under Chinese law, such an application can be filed at any stage of the jail term by any prisoner who believes he or she is wrongfully convicted and a victim of a miscarriage of justice. In the summer of 2016, friends learned privately that Ilham Tohti made another attempt to shen-su but was stopped by the authorities who threatened the family that their visitation rights would be revoked if they pressed the matter.
  • Health concerns: The prison provides little Muslim food. After visiting him in prison in July 2016, his wife reported that he had lost a lot of weight. Given the recent death of Liu Xiaobo in prison, the health issue of China’s political prisoners has become an issue of concern. We are deeply worried about the health of Ilham Tohti, both physical and mental.
  • Niece was given a 10-year sentence for possessing photos of Ilham Tohti on her cell phone: Ilham’s niece, a 25-year-old nurse in the city of Atush, was taken away by police in early 2016 for possessing on her cellphone photographs of Ilham Tohti and two articles about him by Radio Free Asia, as she was stopped by police on her way to a shopping mall. Sources told us that she was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and her grieved mother has fallen ill. A search of the website of the city’s court does not yield any information about her case. (In fact the website stopped posting any court decision since January 2015.) We demand to know everything about her case.
  • The seven students of Ilham Tohti: The student volunteers who worked with Ilham Tohti on net have been sentenced to up to eight years in prison, but information about where they are being held and their condition is unavailable despite continuous efforts by multiple parties to find out more about their cases.

We believe that the combination of reduced visits, denial of communication, gag orders, and family reprisals, have been carefully engineered to punish the Uighur scholar with degrading treatment and psychological torture, while at the same time keeping the attention on his plight from the outside world to a minimum.

We ask the UN human rights institutions and governments to:

  1. Make inquiries about the health of Ilham Tohti;
  2. Ensure that Ilham Tohti receives monthly family visit as Chinese law stipulates;
  3. Ensure his right to communication with friends and family is respected;
  4. Ensure that Ilham Tohti be allowed to file a shen-su according to Chinese law, without he or his relatives suffering retaliation;
  5. Make inquiries about Ilham Tohti’s 25-year-old niece in Atush, Xinjiang;
  6. Continue to press for the total freedom of the Uighur scholar and his students.

China must not be given a pass for its human rights atrocities. Not any more.



Essential Readings on Ilham Tohti:

Ilham Tohti, a 4-minute video

Statement to the Uyghur Service, Radio Free Asia before his arrest, July, 2013.

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen by Ilham Tohti.

Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang by Ilham Tohti.

Voice of America Interview with Uyghur Professor Ilham Tohti in 2013




As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.

Obama Goes to Hangzhou – The US Has No Human Rights Policy Toward China, China Change, September 1, 2016.





A Long Journey to Visit My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, Part Two

Li Aijie, April 29, 2017

This is the second and last installment of Li Aijie’s account of her trip. Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 15 years in prison on January 15, 2016, for “inciting subversion of state power” and 5 years for “providing intelligence to foreign organizations.” He’s currently imprisoned in Shaya Prison in remote western Xinjiang. He believes that he is innocent, and has retained an attorney to represent him for a petition for retrial (申诉). — The Editors


Li Aijie, 沙雅胡杨2

Euphrates poplar groves in Shaya. Photo by a netizen on a driving tour.


On April 22, 2017 I took a train from Urumqi, and arrived in Aksu on the morning of April 23 at around 8:00 a.m. Human rights volunteer Huang Xiaomin (黄晓敏) was already waiting at the train station. After breakfast the four of us—Huang, attorney Ran Tong (冉彤), a driver and I—drove in the cold drizzle. We arrived in the Shaya county seat soon after 5:00 p.m.

After we arranged accommodation, on the morning of April 24 we set off for Shaya Prison. Because we weren’t familiar with the road, we went the wrong way and had to turn back midway. At about 10:30 a.m. we finally arrived at the prison gates. My uneasiness and insomnia due to worrying whether the meeting would take place made me even more exhausted and nervous.

Upon seeing our IDs and paperwork, the guard told us that more procedures were necessary. Attorney Ran Tong and Teacher Huang argued, negotiated, and mediated on the basis of reason and law. The prison guard told us that he needed to ask for instructions from his supervisor. We waited anxiously. After inquiring with his supervisor twice, the guard slowly walked toward us and said: “Your paperwork isn’t complete, and today isn’t a visiting day.” My heart leapt into my throat. He continued, “But we’ve taken into account that you came such a long way. Remember to bring complete paperwork next time.”

The stone hanging in my heart finally fell. I was excited, and silently said to myself: “Praise the Lord! Thank God!” My ardent morning prayer was answered.    

I was put on a prison bus with some visiting Uighur family members. Sitting on the bus, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Tears ran down my face just thinking that I would soon see my husband who I missed so much. The bus passed through an expanse of desert. Red poplar trees gave a sense of vicissitude and decay. Under the bright sunlight, they looked scorched and desolate.

About five or six minutes later, the bus stopped in front of a solitary white building. After we got off, men and women each formed a line and went through a strict security check that required removing our shoes. I took out my ID and money and stored the rest of my documents in a prison locker. I deposited 600 yuan, the maximum permitted, for Haitao. I sat on a stool waiting. The television on the wall was streaming the life of the prisoners.

A staff member led me to an office and explained some rules, such as that talking about politics would result in the termination of the visit, and the visit would only last 30 minutes. I was then taken out of the room. After going a short distance we entered another room.                  


Li Aijie and her new-born baby outside the detention center in Urumqi in 2016.

“Your man is in this room,” a police officer said, pointing to my left. Upon entering, I saw three police officers waiting. I immediately saw Haitao sitting on the other side of the glass partition, with two officers standing behind him. Excited, I quickly walked up and sat down opposite. “Husband, you’ve lost weight!” I said hurriedly. “Wife, you have, too!” Haitao said it with a smile. He looked in good spirits and his complexion was good. He appeared clean and calm, which also comforted me.

“Husband, how are you? How is life in here? Have your foot shackles been removed? Does your stomach still hurt?” I bombarded him with questions, concerned that I wouldn’t have enough time to say everything. “I’m not wearing foot shackles anymore. My stomach doesn’t hurt either. When I arrived at the prison I was given a physical exam at Shaya Hospital. Everything is fine. We have a regular routine here. Every morning we get up at 7:30 a.m. After washing, we exercise and then eat. After breakfast, we exercise for another ten minutes or so before we begin studying.” “What do you study?” “We study some traditional culture, such as the teachings of Confucius and Mencius.”

“Do you have a Bible inside? Can you read it? I brought you a Bible the Autumn Rain Church* gave you but I wasn’t allowed to bring it in.” “We’re not allowed to read it inside!” “But you need to pray to God for yourself, your family, friends, for this country, nation, even the police around you. You need to love yourself and love others, okay?” Haitao nodded.

He told me that for meals he has steamed bread, watery gruel, and some small side dishes. If they’re given soybean milk then they get no other dishes. He can have eggs, tofu, even chicken and rice pilaf when it comes time to “improve prisoners’ lives.” “I’m in very good health,” he said.

“Stand up then, walk around and let me see!” I wanted to see for myself. Haitao stood up and walked around. “Okay, not bad. You’re still full of spirit!” I felt relieved and sat back down. “Who accompanied you this time?” Haitao asked. “Huang Xiaomin and attorney Ran Tong. But they’re not allowed to come inside!” “Oh, that makes me feel better. Please thank them for me!” Haitao folded his hands in prayer.

“Before I left, friends all asked me to convey their concern and say hello to you. Sister Wang Yi and her husband Hua Chunhui, and many other friends. Even after I arrived in Shaya County there were still many friends who called to ask me to tell you to exercise, take care of your health, be strong, and hold on, that they’re sure that you will be free soon. We’re all waiting for you!”

Haitao became quiet for quite a while, hands folded in front of him. “Please thank everyone for me. I won’t get discouraged. Please tell everyone not to worry!”

Haitao told me that he will continue to appeal his case.

“I brought our son’s photos, but wasn’t allowed to bring them in. Our son is very naughty, he can’t stop kissing your picture. He also knows how to make calls and he ‘calls’ you. Next time I come I’ll bring him with me.” “Can he talk a lot? Are you all spoiling him too much, and that’s why he’s acting so naughty? Don’t pamper him too much. Can he stand such a long trip? If not, wait until he’s older,” he said, seeming calm. But I saw his eyes getting moist.

I asked Haitao if the prison allowed writing letters to family members. He said he’d mailed two letters. One of them was inspected and rejected by the prison authorities, but the other had been mailed. “You didn’t receive it?” He said he would send me letters every month.

“How are your parents? If you need anything ask my sisters, and tell them I said to do it.” “Okay,” I nodded emphatically.

Presently I heard an urgent voice from behind telling me that I had five minutes left. “Haitao, you must take care of your health. You owe me and our son a lot. When you get out you have to doubly repay us!” I said in a hastened and stern tone of voice.

Thinking that I would part with him soon, I couldn’t help letting my tears flow. A prison guard handed me tissues.

“Wife, I had a dream. It’s so clear I feel it’s real. You’re sitting at the small table where the phone is at home, and you can’t stop calling me. But all you hear is the message that no one is available at the number you’ve dialed. You keep calling, and the phone keeps saying the same thing.”

At this point Haitao was pulled up by two prison guards.

“You’ve gone overtime by almost five minutes!” the prison guard behind me said.

I stood up, putting my hands on the window. Haitao also stretched his hands out and put them against mine on the other side of the glass partition. “Yes, this is true. When you were just arrested I did call you non-stop like this. Husband, you must take good care of your health. Our son and I will wait for you. We will all wait for you!” I choked up with sobs, my tears falling like pearls from a broken thread.

The waiting room door opened. Haitao turned his head toward me, his hands shaking in prayer. Sunlight flooded in, making the whole room very bright, leaving only the corner dark.

I saw Haitao’s smiling face full of brightness and hope, and he was determined and calm. This greatly comforted me.

On my return journey, I thought of the poplar trees that can live for a thousand years. I believe that before long I will be walking freely hand in hand with Haitao.

I can’t help thinking of the suffering Mr. Gao Zhisheng experienced in this prison. It was the unremitting effort and resistance of him and others after him that improved the conditions Zhang Haitao is in now.

This was a long trip. Words can’t express how hard and mentally exhausting it was. A visit like this is also very expensive, something a family like mine can’t afford. I thank all my friends out there for the helping hands you extended to us. It’s your attention, love, and support that give me the strength to go forward. Without you it’s hard to carry on. I would also like to thank Huang Xiaomin for her company and support on this trip, and those who made contacts, arranged drivers and vehicles. Attorney Ran Tong also traveled with us the whole way and gave us free legal assistance. I, on behalf of my husband Zhang Haitao, thank all of you!

Next month I will take my son Little Mandela to Shaya Prison to visit his father whom he has never met. I respectfully invite my friends and people from all walks of life to continue to pay attention. My next visit will be May 25-26. However, the prison told us that we must contact them in advance.

Again, my deepest gratitude to everyone!**


Li Aijie
April 25, 2017


*The Autumn Rain Church (秋雨之福) is a large house church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

**A note from our translator: “At first it seemed a bit stilted but it grew on me and I found it affecting.”




A Long Journey to See My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, April 23, 2017.

U. S. Government Must Intervene in Zhang Haitao’s Case, November 21, 2016.



Translated from Chinese by China Change.



Ilham Tohti’s Nomination for Sakharov Prize Welcomed by Laureate and Scholars

China Change, September 19, 2016





Ilham Tohti (伊力哈木), a Uighur scholar known for his incisive writings on China’s policies in Xinjiang, was named by the European Parliament to be one of the five nominees for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on September 15. Ilham has for years been a vocal advocate for the economic, cultural, and religious rights of Uighurs in Xinjiang. His role as a rational voice for Uighur autonomy led to his arrest in January, 2014, and a sentence to life imprisonment in September that year.

Incidentally, on the same day that Ilham won the nomination, Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was received by the European Parliament where he spoke of his admiration for “the spirit of the European Union” and the need for different ethnicities and religions to exist together harmoniously in China.

In an interview from Beijing with Radio Free Asia on September 15, the renowned Chinese dissident Hu Jia (胡佳) remarked: “As both an ordinary Chinese citizen and the 2008 Sakharov Prize recipient, I feel that if one person in all of China deserved the Sakharov nomination and was qualified to receive the award, Ilham Tohti would be first on the list.”


Ilham Tohti in classroom.

“Ilham is a thorn in the side of the Communist Party,” he added. “He’s the conscience of the Uighurs, and has been given the most severe sentence. The people he represents have been repressed and spurned, so there’s a lot of pent-up hostility and bad blood. But the key to relieving this pressure is Ilham’s freedom. He was nominated for this award by members of a parliament elected by the people to represent Europe’s values, so it has a special place, and the Chinese authorities know the weight of it. They know that for whoever gets this prize, it will give both that person and the human rights issue they represent a lot of attention. This would put enormous pressure on the Chinese government. So there’s no doubt that they’re going to exert pressure on members of the European Parliament.”

Hu Jia said that Ilham Tohti’s wife and child just returned from Xinjiang to Beijing, but that they’ve been warned and intimidated by the authorities not to speak to anyone about Ilham.

Ilham Tohti’s daughter Jewher told China Change in an interview that her step-mother, Ilham’s wife Guzelnur, took the couple’s two children back to Xinjiang for their summer vacation, and that they visited him on one occasion, speaking face-to-face for about an hour. They were only allowed to speak about family affairs. She didn’t speak further about the circumstances of the meeting, but said that Ilham seemed to be healthy.

Ilham’s Sakharov nomination has Hu Jia feeling both glad and anxious. It so happened that, on another occasion recently he recounted how, in 2008 while in prison, the Communist Party authorities tried to force him to reject the prize:

In 2008, I was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” because I engaged in activities to promote human rights and liberty before the Olympic Games.

The European Parliament awarded me the Sakharov Prize, and I was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. When I was in prison, the head of the Beijing municipal political police led a group of public security and foreign ministry officials to pay a visit to me in prison — they were putting me under intense pressure, trying to force me to make a public announcement that I rejected both the Sakharov Prize and the nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

In exchange, these officials said that they would reduce my sentence by 2.5 years, and also pay me double the cash award of the Sakharov Prize, as economic “compensation.” These secret political police, and the jailers in their charge, lobbied me with this proposal on up to seven occasions. I flatly rejected all of these despicable, filthy political dealings. Thus, I am deeply aware of how moral support, and awards from the international community, place the Communist Party’s security organs and foreign affairs officials under enormous pressure.

Hu suspects that Ilham will receive the same treatment if he’s also given the award—though he suspects that the Communist Party will first attempt to interfere with the process of deciding the laureate in the coming weeks.  

Hu Jia told RFA that Ilham “opposes all forms of violence and bloodshed. If he’s awarded the Sakharov Prize, then his ideas, what he advocates, what he has attempted to realize, his wish that we’re all able to live with dignity as part of a big family, will be recognized by the entire world. The Xinjiang question will be looked at squarely by the world, as well as the question of the Uyghurs.”

Hu Jia added that not only Han Chinese like himself support the nomination, but Tibetans, including the well-known writer Woeser (唯色), are also behind it.

Elliot Sperling, a professor of Central Eurasian Studies at the Indiana University Bloomington, told Radio Free Asia: “China’s human rights situation is getting worse and worse, and the Party’s ethnic policies in Tibet and Xinjiang are being resisted by the people. The Communist Party doesn’t want to reflect on why its policies have been unsuccessful—instead, they look for scapegoats. Ilham Tohti is a scapegoat. The fact that he has received the nomination shows that the world is not going to be blind to this.”  

James Leibold, a professor of China’s minority policies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, used Twitter to encourage the European Parliament to give Ilham Tohti the prize. “No more worthy recipient of the Sakharov Prize than Ilham Tohti. It’s time for MEPs to resist pressure from China,” he wrote.

In March 2015, Hu Jia met Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, for half an hour, during which time he brought up Ilham’s case, as well as his support for his receipt of the Sakharov Prize. Similarly, in July of this year in Beijing, he gave a letter to Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to be delivered to the European Council’s president Donald Tusk, who was participating in a summit meeting in the Chinese capital.

The letter said, in part: “If I were to meet you and meet your for only one minute, I would use those 60 seconds to tell you about one Chinese citizen: Ilham Tohti.”

Perhaps as a result of the absence of sustained international attention, Ilham’s family in China continues to suffer persecution. Jewher Ilham told China Change that Ilham’s niece, a young nurse in Kashgar, was taken away by police earlier in the year after her cell phone was checked by police when she was at a mall buying clothes (Uighurs say it’s now become common for the police to simply stop them in the street and forcibly examine their phones). The police detained her after seeing photos of her uncle, Ilham Tohti, on the phone, and possibly also because of her refusal to cooperate with them, Jewher speculated. She said that she hopes that someone will raise the case of her cousin to the Chinese government.




Give the Sakharov Prize to an Uighur Intellectual, André Gattonlin, Marie Holzman, and Noël Mamère, July 18, 2016

Making the Case for Nominating Ilham Tohti for the Sakharov Prize – My Remarks at the European Parliament, Yaxue Cao, May 31, 2016.


Essential readings about Ilham Tohti:

A Short Introduction to Ilham Tohti, 2016 (downloadable PDF)

Statement to the Uyghur Service, Radio Free Asia before his arrest, July, 2013.

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen by Ilham Tohti, 2011.

Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations (downloadable PDF) by Ilham Tohti, 2011-2013.

Voice of America Interview with Uyghur Professor Ilham Tohti, November, 2013.

Ilham Tohti, a 30-minute Documentary , October, 2015.




Give the Sakharov Prize to an Uighur Intellectual

André Gattonlin, Marie Holzman, and Noël Mamère, July 18, 2016

This is a translation of Donnons le prix Sakharov à un intellectuel ouïghour published in the French newspaper Libération on July 14, 2016. – The Editors


Ilham Tohti in France

Ilham Tohti in Tours, France, 2009. Photo: Uighur Online archive

The Sakharov Prize is awarded every year in October, to honor individuals or organizations who have dedicated their lives to defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The award, which was created in 1985 by the French MP Jean-François Deniau, may well be awarded this year to an Uighur intellectual who was sentenced in 2014 to life in prison. It turns out that this professor from Minzu University (University for Nationalities) in Beijing had been discovered in 2008 by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was invited to spend a week in France under a program called “Personalities of the Future.” This project gave civil society actors under 35 years of age from around the world the opportunity to meet personalities of their choice in order to sharpen their knowledge of the workings of our country.

Since these “Personalities of the Future” were also chosen for their moral qualities, it is not surprising that many of them, including Ilham Tohti, chose to meet with organizations made up of human rights defenders, or representatives from the legal world or from trade unions. In other words, France invited people who might carry far and wide the universal values for which our country is proud to be a beacon.

This is what Ilham Tohti has tried to do. Having received an excellent education in Uighur as well as in Chinese, he had the rare privilege of being able to become a university professor in Beijing and to provide education in economics and geopolitics. His pedagogical gifts, the strength of his arguments and the breadth of his views quickly made him a charismatic teacher whose courses, taught in Chinese, were avidly followed by his Uighur students as well as by Han, Mongolian, and Tibetan students, among others. He expanded his circle by creating a site, Uighur Online, from which he conveyed constructive suggestions aimed at those active in China’s political and economic life, with the purpose of improving the situation in Xinjiang, the far west Chinese province, which is the cradle of the Uighur ethnic group and which joins together eight million people in the interior of China.

However, since September 11, 2001, and the subsequent worldwide struggle against terrorism, the Uighurs have become a favorite target of the Chinese government which accuses them of all evils: fundamentalism, Islamism, and terrorism. The new anti-terrorism law, passed on December 27, 2015, has simply added one more layer to this. While the counter-productive and repressive strategies regarding ethnic groups—such as Tibetans and Uighurs—have so far raised tensions between Han and non-Han ethnic groups, via torture, imprisonment, extrajudicial killings and the heavy-handed policing of even the most peaceful demonstrations supporting religious or cultural identity, the Chinese government has found nothing better to do than to sentence to life imprisonment, under the pretext of “separatism,” one of the only Uighur intellectuals who had attempted, by any means, to find common ground for cooperation between Uighurs and Hans.

46 years old, Ilham Tohti has already received several awards, including the Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award from the PEN American Center in 2014. World leaders have protested his conviction as unfair. It is time for French public opinion to take up his case: by dint of discussing the harm done by ISIS or Boko Haram, we’ve come to forget that certain Muslim citizens could make a difference and bring peace to a world torn by hatred and xenophobia. Ilham Tohti is certainly one among them. His place is not in the No. 1 Detention Center in Urumqi in Xinjiang. The Sakharov Prize would be both a tribute and a message of hope sent to an innocent victim of the ruthless dictatorship of Chinese President Xi Jinping. It is up to the European Deputies to rouse themselves on his behalf!


André Gattonlin is a French senator. Marie Holzman is the President of Solidarité Chine. Noël Mamère is a deputy of the National Assembly. This op-ed was translated from the French by Elliot Sperling, Professor Emeritus of Eurasian Studies, Indiana University.




Making the Case for Nominating Ilham Tohti for the Sakharov Prize – My Remarks at the European Parliament, Yaxue Cao, May 31, 2016.

Essential readings about Ilham Tohti:

Statement to the Uyghur Service, Radio Free Asia before his arrest, July, 2013.

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen by Ilham Tohti, 2011.

Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations (downloadable PDF) by Ilham Tohti, 2011-2013.

Voice of America Interview with Uyghur Professor Ilham Tohti, November, 2013.

Ilham Tohti, a 30-minute Documentary , October, 2015.

A Short Introduction to Ilham Tohti, 2016 (downloadable PDF)