Central Asia Theater
Protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters in New York as the General Assembly met on Oct 1, to demand an end to state-sponsored forced labor in Turkmenistan's cotton industry. The small but spirited protest came as Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov arrived for his first visit to the United States in three years. Each year the government of Turkmenistan forces tens of thousands of workers from both public and private sectors to pick cotton during the harvest season or else pay a bribe to supervisors to hire a replacement worker, according to protest organizer Cotton Campaign. This takes place under threat of punishment, including public censure, loss of wages from regular jobs and termination of employment. The government treats refusal to contribute to the cotton harvest as insubordination, incitement to sabotage and "contempt of the homeland."
In Episode 18 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg looks back at the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement of the closing years of the Cold War, when the Western Shoshone people, whose traditional lands were being contaminated by the nuclear blasts at the US government's Nevada Test Site, made common cause with the Kazakh people of Central Asia who opposed Soviet nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk site. Kazakh activists travelled to Nevada to join protests at the Test Site, while Western Shoshone leaders travelled to Kazakhstan to join protests at Semipalatinsk. This initiative eventually evolved into the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which as recently as 2016 held an International Conference on Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World in Astana, Kazakhstan, again attended by Western Shoshone leaders. The story of indigenous peoples impacted by nuclear testing on their usurped lands has come to us from several places around the world, including the French test site at Gerboise Bleue in Algeria—known to the local Tuareg nomads as Tanezrouft. Other examples are the Chinese test site at Lop Nur, on lands of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, and British testing on Aboriginal lands at Maralinga, in the Australian outback. The Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement provides an inspiring example of indigenous peoples and their supporters building solidarity across hostile international borders and superpower influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
A UN human rights committee this week raised the alarm about reports that China is holding up to a million Uighurs in what are being termed "counter-extremism centers" in the western Xinjiang autonomous region. Gay McDougall of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised the claims at a two-day meeting on China held at the UN's Geneva headquarters. McDougall termed the centers "political camps for indoctrination,” and raised the prospect that Beijing has "turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp." Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have submitted reports to the UN committee detailing claims of mass detention. The World Uyghur Congress said in its report that detainees are held indefinitely without charge, and forced to shout Communist Party slogans. (BBC News, Reuters)
In Episode 15 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg reports on the 10-year commemoration of the 2008 Tibetan uprising held by Students for a Free Tibet in Astoria, Queens, New York City. A decade after the uprising was put down, struggles for land recovery and language preservation continue in Tibet, as well as among the Mongols, Uighurs and other indigenous peoples of the territory that constitutes the People's Republic of China. Weinberg provides an overview of these ongoing struggles, and draws parallels to related struggles in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and elsewhere in the Americas—including the movement against the Dakota Access pipeline. These parallels point to the urgent need for grassroots-to-grassroots international solidarity across superpower influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Students for a Free Tibet held a 10-year commemoration of the 2008 Tibetan uprising at a hall n the Queens neighborhood of Astoria, New York City, on Aug. 4. The 2008 uprising, which began in Lhasa in March, continued for weeks and spread across the Tibetan plateau. It was put down at a cost of some 20 lives, by official Chinese figures. But Tibetan rights groups and the government-in-exile in Dharamshala, India, claim that hundreds were "disappeared" in a subsequent wave of repression, with some 200 presumed killed. Amid all this, the Beijing Olympics were held that summer. Students for a Free Tibet and allied groups held protests around the world to highlight the repression—including within China itself during the Games. Photos at the Astoria hall showed activists unfurling banners on the Great Wall and on Mount Everest in Tibet, as well as stateside sites like the Golden Gate bridge.
Respected Mongol historian Lhamjab A. Borjigin was placed under house arrest in Inner Mongolia's Xilingol League July 11 to await trial on charges of "national separatism" and "sabotaging national unity." At issue is his self-published book that purports to document the deaths of 30,000 in Inner Mongolia in a campaign of "genocide" against ethnic Mongols during China's Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Although Lhamjab, 74, is the author of several books on the history of the region, all state-run publishing houses refused to publish this work, entitled simply China's Cultural Revolution (Ulaan Huvisgal in Mongolian). Lhamjab resorted to taking the risk of self-publishing through an "underground" press. The book, published in the Mongol script, became popular, distributed through informal networks in Inner Mongolia. It was also reprinted by a formal publishing house in the independent country of Mongolia, in Cyrillic Mongolian script. Lhamjab potentially faces a lengthy prison term. (Southern Mongolian Human Rights Center via UNPO, July 23)
Chinese police used tear-gas and baton charges to disperse Tibetan villagers protesting a mine project in Qinghai's Yulshul Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on July 7, following two months of demonstrations at the site. Rsidents said the project at a site called Upper Dechung was undertaken without informing the local inhabitants. Several were hospitalized following the police assault, including a 70-year-old man. There are also concerns for the whereabouts of a delegation of some 50 villagers who went to complain to provincial authorities about the mine, and have not been heard from since. The mine was seemingly initiated by private interests with little or no government oversight. "Local people suspect corruption is involved in connection with this joint venture," a source told Radio Free Asia.
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)