The European Parliament should be congratulated for awarding this year’s Sakharov Prize to Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, who is now five years into a life sentence in a Chinese prison after being convicted in 2014 on trumped-up charges of engaging in separatist activities and encouraging terrorism.
Thursday’s announcement was the second time this month that European nations have shown their support for Tohti, an academic who spent years researching relations and encouraging dialogue between Uighur and Han Chinese, after the Council of Europe awarded him the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize as a symbol of the suffering of the Uighurs.
Although it is unlikely that Tohti would hear of either prize, at least for some time, or that Beijing would heed the parliament’s call to free him, the awards are recognition both of the plight of the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and the rest of China, and a condemnation of Beijing’s blanket abuse of its people.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ response that Tohti is a criminal under Chinese law and that outsiders should not help a terrorist gain influence demonstrates yet again the base fragility of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rule: It is not the global power it aspires to be if imprisonment is its only method to cope with a moderate like Tohti.
Under the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) authoritarian government, Taiwan had many Tohtis of its own. These brave men and women of moderate voice knew they could end up in prison or dead for speaking up for change, universal human rights, democracy and dialogue, and yet they did so anyway.
This is why Taiwan’s government and its people should add their voices to the condemnation of CCP abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and elsewhere every chance they get.
Taiwan stands as a continuing rebuke to the CCP’s dictatorship and a reminder to the Chinese that democracy is possible, despite Beijing’s endless threats about the inevitability of unification and its efforts to undermine this nation in social media, at the polls or through its poaching of allies.
It is the reason that Taiwan this week became the first Asian nation to host an International Federation for Human Rights congress, which the 97-year-old France-based non-governmental organization holds every three years.
The federation said that Taiwan was chosen because its vibrant democracy stands in stark counterpoint to many of its regional neighbors.
No names were mentioned, but none needed to be.
The theme of this year’s congress, “Our Right, Our Fight, Our Future — Reclaiming the Universality of Human Rights,” and its focus on equal rights for minorities, could not be more apt for this nation as it heads toward another presidential election, one in which the future of the nation and the human rights its citizens enjoy are at stake.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) told the congress delegates that the road to human rights is a long one.
She should have also said that it is a never-ending one.
Tohti turned 50 yesterday. A belated birthday wish: one day soon he will be able to celebrate birthdays with his loved ones once again.
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