Central Asia Theater
Thousands of Uighurs, members of the indigenous Muslim and Turkic people of China's far-western Xinjiang region, are currently being detained in "political education camps," according to international rights observers. "Every household, every family had three or four people taken away," said Omer Kanat, executive committee chairman of the World Uyghur Congress, based in Germany. "In some villages, you can't see men on the streets anymore—only women and children—all the men have been sent to the camps." One recent report put the number of Uighurs confined in "overcrowded and squalid" conditions at 120,000 just in Xinjiang's Kashgar prefecture. (CNN, Feb. 2; RFA, Jan. 22)
The trial of Tibetan educational rights activist Tashi Wangchuk ended without a verdict at Yushu Intermediate People's Court in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province, the activist's lawyer Liang Xiaojun said Jan. 4. “The trail conducted in Chinese went for four hours...without reaching a verdict. The judgment will be made at an unspecified date,” Xiaojun tweeted. The lawyer also added that the Chinese prosecutor produced the nine-minute New York Times video report, "A Tibetan's Journey for Justice" as the main evidence of Tashi "inciting separatism." Tashi was charged under Article 103 of China's criminal code, which states that "whoever organizes, plots, or acts to split the country or undermine national unification, the ringleader, or the one whose crime is grave, is to be sentenced to life imprisonment or not less than ten years of fixed-term imprisonment."
The Uighur people of China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region are coming under unprecedented surveillance and militarization amid official fears of terrorism in the far-western territory. In the latest draconian measure, residents of one prefecture are being ordered to install a government-developed GPS tracking system in their vehicles. By June 30, all motorists in Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture must have the BeiDou navigation satellite system installed in their vehicles, under an order aimed at "ensur[ing] stability and social harmony." Gas stations will only be permitted to serve cars that have the system. Installation is free, but vehicle owners will be charged 90 yuan a year for the Internet fees.
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."
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 simiiar 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."
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'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 Review, The Standard, Hong Kong, Aug. 30)
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, NYT, Bloomberg)