For Monday, September 29

PEN American Center Protests Unjust Life Sentence for Uyghur Writer and Intellectual Who Has Committed No Crime

NEW YORK—On Monday night, PEN American Center will host a public candlelight vigil for Ilham Tohti, the Uyghur writer and scholar who was sentenced to life in prison on September 23 on unfounded charges of separatism. The vigil will take place  outside New York City’s The New School, on the sidewalk adjacent to The Auditorium at 66 West 12th St., at 8:00pm.

The vigil will feature acclaimed novelist Barbara Kingsolver reading a haunting statement from Tohti, written in 2013 to be published in the event of his arrest. The statement foreshadows Tohti’s later imprisonment and persecution, and avows Tohti’s commitment to defend and uphold human rights even as the Chinese government closes in.

Tohti, a 44-year old father of three, is a Member of the Uyghur PEN Center and was awarded the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in May. His unprecedented life sentence has shocked the world, prompting statements of condemnation from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other world leaders. Universally known as a peaceful teacher, scholar, and convener of online dialogue through his website Uyghur Online, Tohti has this week become a new global emblem of China’s intensifying repression. His writings explicitly reject separatism, or the dividing of China, the crime for which he is accused. Tohti is exactly the kind of influential moderate the Chinese government should have courted in their professed efforts to build social harmony. By sentencing him to life in prison, China is slamming the door on peaceful dialogue, choosing a path of brutal and inhumane repression in full view of the world. 

Who: PEN American Center; novelist Barbara Kingsolver

What: Candlelight Vigil Marking the Unjust Sentencing of Ilham Tohti

Where: The Auditorium at The New School, 66 W. 12th St., New York City

When: Monday, September 29, 8:00pm – 8:30pm

Visuals: Vigil participants with candles; illuminated banners and signs with Tohti’s photograph


Press wishing to attend the event may RSVP with Sarah Edkins, PEN Communications Manager, at or 617-947-6512. Photos and short video from the event will be serviced to the press on Tuesday, September 30.


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 3,500 American writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide.


Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager:, (617) 947.6512