Uighur rights advocate Tohti was jailed for life in China in 2014 on separatism charges that were widely denounced at the time in Western capitals
The European Parliament awarded its annual prize for the defence of human rights on Thursday to jailed ethnic Uighur economics Prof Ilham Tohti, angering Beijing which called him a criminal and a terrorist.
Uighur rights advocate Tohti was jailed for life in China in 2014 on separatism charges that were widely denounced at the time in Western capitals.
The European Parliament chose him for his activity to foster dialogue between Chinese people and the mostly Muslim Uighur minority who live in China's western region of Xinjiang.
"The parliament calls on the Chinese authorities to release him immediately," the assembly's president, David Sassoli, told lawmakers at a plenary sitting in Strasbourg, announcing the prize.
The move infuriated China.
"We do not know about this prize you mention. What we do know is that Ilham is a criminal who was sentenced in accordance with the law by a Chinese court," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters.
China "hopes that all sides respect China's internal affairs and judicial sovereignty and not inflate the arrogance of terrorists."
Beijing has rejected any criticism of its policies in Xinjiang, where the government has faced international opprobrium for placing up to a million Uighurs in what Beijing calls de-radicalization facilities.
Tohti, an ethnic Uighur, has criticized the government for not giving Xinjiang and its Turkic-speaking Uighurs more autonomy, but had always sought to work inside the system.
He had taught at Beijing's Minzu University, which specializes in ethnic minority studies.