On May 5, 2014, Jewher Ilham, a student at Indiana University and daughter of imprisoned Uyghur PEN Member Ilham Tohti, accepted the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on behalf of her father. You can read her op-ed in the New York Times here.
Thank you very much for the honor that you’re granting to my father this evening. Thank you too for giving me the opportunity to stand here in his place and accept it. Frankly, I had never imagined that I would be in such a situation; I never thought that one day my father would be imprisoned in Xinjiang and I would be on the other side of the world, trying my best to speak for him. This is not something that I have ever prepared for and I hope you’ll forgive my unpolished English and my nervousness… which is increased by being in the presence of so many renowned writers and activists.
My father, Ilham Tohti, has used only one weapon in his struggle for the basic rights of the Uyghurs of Xinjiang: words. Spoken, written, distributed and posted: this is all that he has ever had at his disposal, and all that he has ever needed. And this is what China finds so threatening. Locations may differ, countries and societies may differ, but the fear of free thought and the power of words still sadly tortures the minds of so many of those who rule. My father spoke out, and will continue to speak out for those who have been wrongly imprisoned; who have been beaten; who have been discriminated against because of their religion, language and culture; and who have disappeared. His work is not simply something for the Uyghurs, it is for China too, and for everyone in our common world society. To have someone who has been imprisoned for his dreams of a society founded on basic rights and who is locked up far away in a prison in the ancient Silk Road region recognized this evening here in New York by PEN fills me with hope. To know that the person whom you honor is my father fills me with humility. Thank you all very much.