Chairs Call for the Release of Ilham Tohti on the Eighth Anniversary of His Detention

January 14, 2022

 (Washington)—Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative James P. McGovern (D-MA), the Chair and Cochair, respectively, of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China, issued the following statement on the eighth anniversary of the detention of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti:

 “Ilham Tohti was imprisoned for life for simply pointing out the inequalities facing ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and for advocating inter-ethnic dialogue. His imprisonment as a leading Uyghur cultural figure was followed by a wave of mass detention of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and others from all walks of life. Instead of respecting the rights of ethnic minorities and listening to the concerns of people like Ilham Tohti, authorities decided to stamp out the culture, language, and the very freedom of people like him. We urge Chinese officials to release Ilham Tohti from prison and end their campaign of arbitrary mass detention and repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”

 “Ilham Tohti’s detention and imprisonment prefaced the largest mass internment of ethnic and religious minorities since World War II. His only crime was to speak truth to power, and to advocate for the human rights of an oppressed people. For that, authorities condemned him to life in prison. Authorities have aggressively targeted leading cultural and religious figures in the Turkic Muslim population in Xinjiang, and they continue to repress millions of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and others through detention, forced labor, and the destruction of their ways of life. China must set Ilham Tohti free and end its ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. Releasing Ilham Tohti would be a gesture of goodwill in the spirit of the upcoming Olympics, to be held in Beijing starting in just a few weeks.”