The European Parliament awarded on Thursday the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti, a renowned Uyghur activist who dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of China's Muslim minority.
In 2014, the economist was sentenced to life imprisonment on separatism-related charges after a two-day trial.
"By awarding this prize, we strongly urge the Chinese government to release Tohti and we call for the respect of minority rights in China," Parliament President David Sassoli said as he announced the laureate.
Since 2017, Chinese authorities have detained more than one million Uyghurs in a network of internment camps, according to the European Parliament.
UN experts and activists say at least one million Uyghurs and members of other largely Muslim minority groups have been detained in camps in the remote Xinjiang region.
The Sakharov Prize prize, established in 1988, is "awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause," the European Parliament says on its website.
Other finalists for the prize this year included late Brazilian politician Marielle Franco, indigenous Brazilian leader Chief Raoni, Brazilian environmentalist Claudelice Silva dos Santos and anti-FGM Kenyan group The Restorers.