In recognition of his fight for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority, economist and human rights activist Ilham Tohti will be awarded the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in a ceremony on Wednesday.

As he is currently imprisoned for life in China on charges of separatism, his daughter Jewher will receive the award from President David Sassoli.

Later on Wednesday, MEPs will discuss the treatment of China’s Uyghur population.

The winner was chosen by Parliament’s political leaders on 24 October 2019.

“I am very pleased to announce that the European Parliament has chosen Ilham Tohti as the winner of the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Tohti has dedicated his life to advocating for the rights of the Uyghur minority in China. Despite being a voice of moderation and reconciliation, he was sentenced to life in prison following a show trial in 2014,” said announcing the laureate, Parliament President David Sassoli.

“By awarding this prize, we strongly urge the Chinese government to release Tohti and we call for the respect of minority rights in China,” the President added.

Tohti is a proponent of dialogue and advocate for the implementation of regional autonomy laws in China. In 2014, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on separatism-related charges.  Despite this, he remains a voice of moderation and reconciliation. Since 2017, more than one million Uyghurs have been detained in a network of internment camps.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded annually since 1988 to individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Last year the prize was awarded to the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.