Transcript of the speech of Jewher Ilham, daughter of Ilham Tohti, accepting on his behalf the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders
(Ilham Tohti is currently serving a life sentence in prison in China for ‘separatism’.)
October 11, 2016
Thank you very much, High Commissioner. I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to you, to the jury members for the Martin Ennals Award, and to all of the people working on the award jury, and at all of the esteemed human rights organizations who have deliberated to decide the laureate.
It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs that there are so many worthy nominees and candidates.
I accept this award on behalf of my father, Ilham Tohti, with great humility.
Human rights defenders are like certain kinds of doctors. These doctors selflessly rush into regions plagued by devastating diseases to try to alleviate suffering, all the while knowing about the possibility of contracting the disease themselves. Human rights defenders forge into areas of severe repression and misery to try to do something to alleviate the conditions, all the while knowing that the risk of arrest, imprisonment and worse is always lurking in the background.
I have had no contact with my father for over two and a half years. The last time I saw him face to face, he was in the custody of the authorities at the airport in Beijing.
When I was a child, many nights I would wake up seeing the view of his back as he typed away on the computer, turning out articles. I would sometimes ask why he was doing this and why he didn’t stop and spend more time playing with us. He would smile and tell me how important it was to work for others, to work for our people. He said I would understand this one day. And I did come to understand this, but this came through seeing the terrible price he was paying to stand up for the rights of his people and all people within the People’s Republic of China.
It is an honor for me to represent my father here. It is an honor for me to see that his work is recognized as just and right, not as something that deserves severe punishment. One day, very soon I hope, he will learn about this.
My father has always sought the basic human rights that are guaranteed to the Uighurs, and to all people. But he also knows that such rights must be protected, that their implementation cannot be accomplished by silence. So his sole weapon in his struggle has been words. He was given a sentence of life imprisonment for this, something that is unbelievable.
When I was young, my father always protected me. Now when I am an adult, I can do no less for him. He will be free one day. I know it. I know it.
It is with great humility that I accept the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders on his behalf. Thank you very much.
Any and all transcription errors are mine. Jewher Ilham has had nothing to do with this transcription.
The speech was transcribed from the video of the full Martin Ennals Award Ceremony. Jewer Ilham’s speech appears at approximately 1:20:00 in the video.
The statement of the jury of the Martin Ennals Award upon conferring the award upon Ilham Tohti