EU awards top human rights prize to Uyghur activist

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BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Thursday awarded its top human rights prize to economist Ilham Tohti for his work defending China's Uyghur minority, and urged Beijing to release him from jail.

A moderate though outspoken Uyghur critic of Beijing's policies in Xinjiang, Tohti was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014. He was convicted of fanning ethnic hatred, advocating violence and instigating terror through his classroom teaching and a website on Uyghur issues.

European Parliament President David Sassoli, announcing the winner of the Sakharov Prize in Strasbourg, France, praised Tohti for dedicating his life to advocating the rights of China's Uyghur minority.

"By awarding this prize, we strongly urge the Chinese government to release Tohti and we call for the respect of minority rights in China," Sassoli said.

Tohti succeeded Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker who was recently released from a Russian prison camp after being accused of plotting acts of terrorism.

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