The European Parliament will award the Sakharov Prize to Ilham Tohti this year. The Uighur economist, who recently taught in Beijing, will not be able to receive the award in person. Because Ilham Tohti is in prison. In 2014 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for "separatism and incitement to racial hatred".
A scandalous and grotesque judgment, because the economist has repeatedly used for a compatible living together between the Muslim minority of the Uighurs and the Han Chinese. The parliamentarians in Strasbourg also recognize Tohti as being a "voice of moderation and reconciliation". Parliament President David Sassoli called on the Beijing government to dismiss the scientist and respect minority rights in China.
However, the Chinese government has reacted with anger to the price of Tohti, much as it did in 2010 to award the Nobel Peace Prize to writer and civil rights activist Liu Xiaobo. Tohti is a separatist and terrorist for China. The European Parliament gave the prize to a "criminal", said the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.
Of course, the award has symbolic power. The European Parliament declares its attachment to the Uighurs with the award. Around one million members of this Muslim minority in China's westernmost province of Xinjiang are currently being detained in reeducation camps. If Beijing initially denied the existence of these camps, the government later spoke of "vocational training" measures.
For a long time, the world has silently watched the systematic human rights violations in western China. One knows too little, there is no proof, it was said. These were also hard to come by, but the central government prevented foreign correspondents from doing independent research in Xinjiang. Representatives of human rights organizations were also undesirable.
More and more reports document the suppression
But then more and more reports from the province came into the world, Western newspapers published photos of the camps. Uighurs living abroad told of threats against their loved ones at home. There is now a fairly accurate idea of the dimension of the persecution. The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington states in a study test, it could be the "most extensive internment of religious minorities since the Second World War".
Germany, along with 22 other states, has just called on the Chinese government to end "arbitrary detention of Uighurs and members of other Muslim communities" at the UN General Assembly. China, however, was able to mobilize a larger group of states. 54 governments supported a Belarus (Belarus) statement praising China for its "successes" in the fight against terrorism. "A few least Western states" would have "suffered a shameful defeat," said the Foreign Ministry in Beijing.
The vote defeat in New York should not, however, prevent the West from continuing to speak out against human rights violations in Xinjiang. The Uighurs and the other Muslim minorities are being observed at every step on suspicion of a secession from China. Beijing uses state-of-the-art surveillance technology such as facial and speech recognition.
Five to eight
Subscribe to the morning column of ZEIT ONLINE - from Monday to Friday by e-mail.
Therefore, the US government has recently imposed severe sanctions on companies that participate in this repression. US companies are only allowed to sell technology to eight Chinese companies and 20 security agencies with a special permit. Among the Chinese companies are facial recognition specialist Megvii and SenseTime and the manufacturer of surveillance cameras Hikvision.
For months, the world has been watching the riots in Hong Kong. Thousands of kilometers to the west, another drama is taking place in China. Good that the public finally takes notice of the suppression of the uigures. Andrey Sakharov, who once fought fearlessly for freedom in the Soviet Union, would, one might suppose, agree with the award to Ilham Tohti and the solidarity of Europe with the Uyghurs.