Central Asia Theater

Russian blogger jailed for protesting Syria war

A court in Russia has sentenced Alexei Kungurov, a 38-year-old blogger from Tyumen, Western Siberia, to two-and-a-half years in prison for "justification of terrorism" over a blog post he wrote in October 2015, after Moscow launched its military intervention in Syria. In the post, Kungurov vehemently criticized Russia's intervention, saying he sought to "debunk" several "myths" created by "Putin's regime" and delivered to the public through the "zombie-boxes" of pro-Kremlin media. Rather than fighting terrorists in Syria, Kungurov argued, Russia was "helping them."

Tibet: climate struggle frontline

Climate change is likely to blame for a massive avalanche in Tibet that killed nine people in July, according to an analysis of the distaster published Dec. 9 in the Journal of Glaciology. More than 70 million tons of ice broke off from the glacier capping the Aru Mountains of western Tibet's Rutog county on July 17, covering 9.6 square kilometers (3.7 square miles) of the valley floor in just four or five minutes and killing nine nomadic yak herders. The study was undertaken by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a US team including Lonnie Thompson of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, who has done simialr work in the Andes. The team found that melted water at the glacier's base must have lubricated the ice, speeding its path down the mountainside. "Given the rate at which the event occurred and the area covered, I think it could only happen in the presence of meltwater," said Thompson, adding that other nearby glaciers may now also be vulnerable. "Unfortunately, as of today, we have no ability to predict such disasters."

Uzbekistan's late despot hailed by Russia and West

It is telling that Islam Karimov, the murderous dictator of Uzbekistan, is hailed upon his death as an ally in the war on terrorism in both Moscow and the West. The White House statement on the Sept. 2 passing was terse, perhaps reflecting Karimov's recent tensions with Washington, but certainly contained no trace of criticism. The CNN headline was typical: "US loses partner in terror war with death of Uzbekistan's leader." The story pictured Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Karimov in November 2015. If you read down far enough, the story does mention the May 2005 Andijan massacre—"described as the biggest attack on demonstrators since Tiananmen Square in 1989"—portraying it as the point when US relations with the dictator hit the rocks. It also notes that "Karimov had led Uzbekistan since before that country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, making him one of the longest-serving rulers in the world." But "longest-ruling" is the better phrase; Karimov never "served" anything other than his own power, and (toward that aim) his imperial sponsors.

China pressures Kyrgyzstan after Bishkek blast

China's Foreign Ministry called on Kyrgyzstan to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and institutions following a deadly blast at Beijing's embassy in Bishkek, capital of the Central Asian naiton. China says it will assist Kyrgyzstan in the investigation into the Aug. 30 suicide car-bomb blast that killed the driver and injured three embassy employees. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion has fallen on the Turkestan Islamic Party, a Uigur separatist organization formerly known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. China has growing economic interests in Kyrgyzstan under the "Silk Road" initiative, land route of the "One Belt, One Road" trade and infrastructure scheme which also includes a maritime leg through the Indian Ocean. (SCMP, Sept. 1; RFE/RL, Aug. 31; Nikkei Asian ReviewThe Standard, Hong Kong, Aug. 30)

ISIS behind deadly attack in Kazakhstan?

A team of two gunmen killed three security officers and two civilians in an attack on police station and an office of the National Security Committee (KNB) in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty July 18. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attack, the shootings come a month after a deadly assault in the northwestern town of Aktobe. In the June 6 incident, a number of militants in Aktobe stole guns from sporting goods stores and attacked a military post. In the ensuing shoot-out, 12 of the attackers were killed and nine were detained. Within days, a court in Aktobe convicted the nine and three alleged accomplices of plotting the attack on behalf of ISIS. The suspects in the Almaty attack remain at large. A "terrorism alert" has been declared in the city. While this is the first report of an ISIS franchise in Kazakhstan, depressed oil prices are causing economic chaos in the Central Asian nation. (Russia Direct, EurasiaNet, NYTBloomberg)

Protests rock Kazakhstan over land-grabbing

Hundreds have been detained in protests across Kazakhstan over a new government policy to privatize farmlands and open the agricultural sector to foreign capital. The protest campaign began in early May, when the government announced the new policy, with large demonstrations reported in Astana, Almaty, Karagandy and other cities. City squares have been repeatedly occupied in defiance of an official ban on public gatherings. The crackdown has extended to the media, with several journalists arrested. But video footage posted to YouTube shows police in Kyzylorda charging unarmed demonstrators in scenes reminiscent of the massacre of striking oil-workers in Zhanaozen in 2011.

Tajikistan gets president-for-life

Voters in Tajikistan on May 20 approved changes to the country's constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to rule indefinitely. Voters approved amendments to remove presidential term limits, lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 and ban religiously based political parties. The first provision allows Rakhmon, 63, to extend his rule, which he has held since 1992. The second provision would allow his son, Rustam Emomali, 29, to be able to run for president in the next election in 2020. The final provision would continue to ban the main opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, which was declared a terrorist organization and banned last year. Election authorites reported that the 41 proposed amendments were approved by 94.5% of voters, with 92% turnout.

Tibetan language campaigner disappears

A businessman from Yushu prefecture, Qinghai province, has spent more than six weeks in prison after his attempts to persuade the local government to provide Tibetan language information in schools were featured in a lengthy article in the New York Times last November. According to a new article in the Times, his family reports that he has been in police custody since January but they have not been allowed to see him and have not been informed of the reason for his detention. Tashi Wangchuk repeatedly expressed that his actions were not political and related solely to the preservation of Tibetan culture and he even offered praise to Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, any challenge to the authorities over matters to do with Tibetan identity risk being treated as "separatist"—a criminal offence carrying a potentially very lengthy prison sentence.