The Chinese government is currently interning hundreds of thousands of the country’s Uighur Muslim minority. In an interview, Jewher Ilham, the daughter of human rights activist Ilham Tohti, who has been sentenced to life in prison, calls on the European Union to take action against Beijing.
Interview Conducted by Markus Becker
Jewher Ilham: “I am the only one who has made it out.”
Jewher Ilham, 25, is the daughter of Chinese economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his advocacy of the rights of China’s Uighur minority.
She went to the United States on her own in 2013 after her father’s arrest at an airport. He had taught at Beijing’s Minzu University until early 2014 and was considered to be the last moderate activist working on behalf of Muslim Uighurs in China.
Since his arrest, Ilham has received several prizes on her father’s behalf, most recently the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in December. The Sakharov Prize has been awarded by the European Parliament since 1988 to people or organizations working to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. The prize is named after the late Russian dissident and physicist Andrei Sakharov and is endowed with 50,000 euros.
DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Ilham, the Chinese government has set up a repressive police and surveillance state in the Xinjiang region, where hundreds of thousands of Uighurs have been interned. In December, the European Parliament awarded your father the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought. Do you feel the European Union is doing enough on behalf of the fate of the Uighur people?
Ilham: I think this is a start. But there is a lot of room for improvement. I am looking forward to seeing more action.
DER SPIEGEL: What do you expect the EU to do?
Ilham: Publicly condemning the Chinese government’s actions is already helpful. But it would be even better if the EU sanctioned Chinese authorities or Western governments that directly support the existence of the concentration camps. One of the reasons these camps exist is that the Chinese government profits from them. If this would end, it would probably help Beijing change its perspective. Putting restrictions on visas for Chinese officials who support the camps would also be helpful. But the EU should not overreach.
DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean?
Ilham: It would not be ideal to sanction the Chinese government as a whole or to limit all trade relationships between the EU and China. We don’t want to create a problem — we are trying to solve one. That is why measures should be targeted at specific products, companies or officials connected to the camps.
DER SPIEGEL: Some members of the European Parliament are already calling for a ban on the import of products originating from the camps to the EU. But is there a way of safely identifying them in the first place?
Ilham: There are lists of companies that export products made in the concentration camps. Actually, most of the factories in the Xinjiang region are designed for labor camps. But the EU could also give direct help to the victims. People released from the camps no longer want to stay in China and want to find a home elsewhere. And those who have already left China usually have one to 10 family members locked up in camps. A lot of them are heavily traumatized. They are suffering from mental health issues. The EU could offer them some badly needed help.. I am the only one who has made it out.