Tohti’s activism has been recognized with prominent international awards, including the Martin Ennals (2016), the Václav Havel (2019) and the Sájarov (2019).
The attempt to silence him, as pointed out by the European Parliamentary Research Service, reflects the tightening of Chinese policy regarding the approach to religious extremism, ethnic separatism and terrorism. A strategy in which the Uyghur identity has ended up being understood as a threat to national security.
Accordingly, a sophisticated and intrusive system of police surveillance and repression has been installed in Xinjiang. It is estimated that around one million people of Uyghur ethnicity and other minorities are detained in mass internment and indoctrination camps, misnamed “vocational training” centers. In the words of Ilham Tohti’s daughter, Jewher Ilham, “being Uyghur today means not being able to contact at least one person in your family.”