Ilham Tohti Awarded the Sakharov Prize and Other Updates on Xinjiang

Situations in Xinjiang continued to draw international attention in the fourth quarter of 2019. On 24 October, Ilham Tohti, a vocal Uyghur professor who in 2014 was sentence to life imprisonment for ‘separatism’, was awarded Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, which subsequently went on to adopt a resolution on the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China with an overwhelming majority. During the UN General Assembly in late October, duelling statements on China’s actions in Xinjiang were issued by groups of UN member countries. Two weeks later, after its involvement in Xinjiang was exposed in the media, the World Bank decided to downscale its funding for ‘vocational schools’ in Xinjiang by suspending the support for partner schools. Still, it kept funding the five institutions directly supported by its project. On 16 November, the New York Times leaked 403 pages of Chinese internal documents; one of the most striking revelations concerned the downfall of Wang Yongzhi, a veteran Han official in Xinjiang who failed to fall in line behind the ethnic crackdown. One week later, another trove of Chinese official documents on Xinjiang was leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the most telling of which was a secret directive that detailed the inner workings and management of detention centres in Xinjiang. On 4 December, the US House of Representatives passed a bill on Xinjiang that would require the government to harden its responses to China’s ethnic crackdown in the region. Amid growing international concern, a few days later, scientific journal publishers Springer Nature and Wiley announced their decision to reevaluate previous publications related to the biometrics of ethnic minorities in China due to ethical concerns. In response to all these events, China launched personal attacks on foreign experts on Xinjiang, including scholars Adrian Zenz and Darren Byler, and threatened Asiye Abdulaheb, a Uyghur woman in the Netherlands who helped leak the documents to the ICIJ and who then decided to go public with her story. The last news of 2019 is that Mesut Özil, a Muslim footballer of Arsenal, called for international support for Uyghurs in Xinjiang, a gesture that led to a backlash against Arsenal in China. NLiu


(Source: BBC; CNN; Global Times; International Consortium of Investigative Journalists; The New York Times 1; The New York Times 2; The New York Times 3; SBS News; Telegraph; The Guardian; The Strait Times)

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