Imprisoned Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti has won the Martin Ennals Award for his work that brings to light "repressive Chinese policies and Uyghur grievances". The formal ceremony for the award, conferred by 10 leading human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, will be held in Switzerland’s Geneva on Tuesday, AP reported. The Uyghurs are a muslim minority group in China.

The rights body praised Tohti's efforts to highlight information "the Chinese government has sought to keep behind a veil of silence.” According to the statement, Tohti “remains a voice of moderation and reconciliation in spite of how he has been treated”. The economics professor was given a life sentence in September 2014 on charges of advocating separatism and violence, along with seven of his students. Tohti has denied the charges.

Tohti is known for speaking up against the Chinese government’s draconian policies concerning his Turkic Muslim ethnic group in the western region of Xinjiang. He was a professor at Beijing’s Minzu University. He ran a website called, a forum for the discussion of economic and social issues related the group.

The country’s leadership has yet to react to the development. Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang said, “The award not only duly recognises Prof Ilham Tohti’s courageous work promoting minority rights and dialogues between Hans and Uyghurs, it also highlights the Chinese government increasingly harsh punishment against its critics.” The Hong Kong-based researcher said the Chinese government should release Tohti and roll back its repressive policies against the Uyghurs.

The Uyghurs consider Xinjiang their home. The region was turned into a Chinese province in 1884 under the Qing dynasty.