Justice for Uyghurs

Justice for Uyghurs

March 6, 2022
Signatures: 331Next Goal: 500
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Why this petition matters

Started by Grace Wenstrom

The Problem

Spurred by colonialism and the global war on terror, Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, have lived under constant persecution for decades. These political, social, cultural, etc., abuses came to a head in 2017 when the XUAR Anti-Religious Extremism Law came into force, effectively legalizing what China calls “re-education” camps. According to articles & reports by outlets such as the AP and Human Rights Watch, these camps have been used to imprison 1+ million Uyghurs for the purposes of political indoctrination, religious abdication, forced sterilization, and more. Multiple foreign governments, including the United States, have since declared the events genocide; however, the federal government has not taken sufficient action to help protect the Uyghur community. As a result, Uyghurs, such as Ilham Tohti--a prominent Uyghur scholar whose imprisonment is driving our group’s advocacy efforts (see below for more)--continue to face abuses in clear violation of human rights standards. Our goal is to bring greater attention to this grave and internationally pertinent issue in order to pressure U.S. lawmakers to make a change. We urge you to voice your support for legislation uplifting Uyghur human rights by signing our petition.


We are a group of undergraduates at the University of Iowa working for Scholars at Risk, a globally renowned network of advocates fighting for academic freedom. We are advocating on behalf of Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur academic who was imprisoned in 2014 in Xinjiang, China for his online advocacy of peaceful Uyghur-Han co-existence (more on his story below). As students committed to the human rights ideals of dignity, security, equality, and justice under law, we pursue this case to further the broader goal of Uyghur liberation and, ultimately, the broader protection of human rights everywhere.

As part of this mission, we plan to undertake a series of congressional advocacy efforts in early April, the goal being to persuade legislators to 1) co-sponsor 3 essential bills (listed below) recognizing and combating Uyghur human rights abuses and 2) explicitly state their condemnation of these abuses via formal press releases and/or informal social media posts. Our personal & jurisdictional connections have led us to focus these action items on Cindy Axne (D-IA) and Ashley Hinson (R-IA).

Again, you can help: By signing our petition, you add weight to our argument that Uyghurs--like all people--deserve unhindered human rights and that the U.S. has an obligation to help preserve these rights. We plan to share the results of this petition during our April congressional meetings.

Advocated Bills:

H.R.4785 - The Uyghur Policy Act of 2021

-"Authorizes the establishment of a Special Coordinator for Uyghur Issues position within the Department of State”

-Authorizes the Department of State to “make certain funds available to human rights advocates working on behalf of Uyghurs and members of other minority groups”

-Establishes Uyghur language availability requirements in the State Department for training and diplomatic purposes

H.R.1630 - Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act

-"Designates certain residents of the Xinjiang region in China as prioritized refugees of special humanitarian concern and addresses other related issues.”

Tohti’s Story

Ilham Tohti, who had held a position at Minzu University’s Institute of Economic Research and published scholarship on Xinjiang ethnic relations in over 20 academic journals, was arrested due to suspicions of separatist activity in January 2014.  The arrest followed Tohti’s creation of a website, “Uighur Online,” in 2005, which served as a platform for peaceful Uyghur-Han communication and cultural exchange. According to Scholars at Risk, local police raided Tohti’s home and confiscated computers, cell phones, passports, and student essays. Tohti was then held in detention for six months before being formally charged with separatism in July 2014.  Leading up to his trial, he was unable to meet with counsel, “his defense team was not provided with complete evidence by the prosecutor, nor were their requested witnesses allowed to testify during the trial,” according to Scholars at Risk.  Thus, after two days of closed legal proceedings in September, the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court found Tohti guilty of separatism and claimed that he “coerced students to work for his website, UighurOnline, and built a criminal syndicate…(that) incited ethnic hatred and encouraged others to violence.”  He was sentenced to life in prison.  Scholars at Risk reported that Tohti was moved to solitary confinement in 2016, but his current condition and location are unknown.

DISCLAIMER: We are working solely on behalf of Scholars at Risk, not the University of Iowa.

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Signatures: 331Next Goal: 500
Support now