Central Asia Theater
With Moscow threatening sanctions against Turkey in the aftermath of the downing of a Russian warplane on the Syrian border, plans for a Russo-Turkish free trade zone appear be on hold—along with key energy projects. Foremost among these is the TurkStream gas pipeline, which Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said Moscow could "restrict." (Reuters) TurkStream is being developed by GazProm, the Russian energy giant, to export Russian (and potentially Central Asian) natural gas through Turkey via the Black Sea. Ulyukayev's hedging is understandable: this has long been a strategic project for Moscow, which has long nurtured a grudge over the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline—linking the Caucasus to Turkish port of Ceyhan through a route that by-passes Russia.
Internet partisans are at present avidly posting a story from conspiranoid website AntiMedia back in June noting reports that a former police commander from Tajikistan was featured in an ISIS video, where he "admitted" (boasted would be more like it) that he was trained by military contractor Blackwater under US State Department aegis. While AntiMedia says he was thusly trained "up until last year," the cited CNN report quotes him as saying the training was from 2003 to 2008. It apparently took place both in Tajikistan and at a Blackwater facility in North Carolina. (Blackwater, strictly speaking, has not existed since 2009, having twice reorganized and changed its name since then.) Gulmurod Khalimov, an ex-colonel of the Tajik Interior Ministry's OMON elite units, says in his ISIS promotional video: "Listen, you American pigs: I've been to America three times. I saw how you train soldiers to kill Muslims. You taught your soldiers how to surround and attack, in order to exterminate Islam and Muslims."
A Tibetan nomad imprisoned for eight years for publicly calling for the return of the Dalai Lama was released after serving his full term, his supporters said this week. Runggye Adrak was taken into custody on Aug. 1, 2007, after shouting slogans from a stage during an annual horse-racing festival in Lithang county in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province. His arrest sparked days of protests in Lithang. He was sentenced in November 2007 for "inciting to split the country" and "subverting state power." He was severely beaten and tortured in prison. "There is no information available on his [present] physical and psychological condition," The India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in a statement. Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet has cited unconfirmed reports that this year’s festival in Lithang has been canceled "as a crackdown in the area deepens" following the unexplained July 12 death in prison of popular spiritual leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. (RFA, July 31)
Thailand on July 9 deported 109 Uighurs back to China despite international warnings that the refugees will experience severe treatment upon returning. Significant opposition to the decision erupted as pro-Uighur protesters attacked the Thai consulate in Istanbul, leading to security forces pepper-spraying the crowd. Amnesty International called the deportations violations of international law. The refugees had been detained in Thailand since last year, along with approximately 50 other Uighurs, whose deportations remain pending. [Amnesty called on Thailand not to deport the remaining 50, and on China to reveal the whereabouts of those already deported.] About 170 Uighurs were deported back to Turkey recently after their nationality was definitively determined.
Up to 28 people were killed in an attack by presumed ethnic Uighurs on a police traffic checkpoint in China's restive Xinjiang region June 23. The attack apparently began when a car sped through a traffic checkpoint in Tahtakoruk district of Kashgar (Chinese: Kashi) city. Assailants armed with knives emerged from the vehicle and rushed the checkpoint, while others quickly arrived by motorcycle. At least one improvised bomb was used in the attack. Two of the dead were said to be by-standers. The slain also included 15 suspects. (RFA, June 23) The attack came as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed "deep concern" over reports that Chinese authorities are again restricting observance of the Ramadan holy month in Xinjiang. The OIC charged that Uighurs "are denied the right to practice the fourth pillar of Islam," fasting during Ramadan. Authorities have reportedly barred civil servants, students and teachers from fasting, and ordered restaurants to remain open. (Arab News, June 27) Perversely, authorities are said to be holding "beer festivals" in Uighur villages to tempt those observing Ramadan to break their fast. (PRI, June 26)
A court in Tajikistan on Jan. 13 sentenced Sukhrat Kudratov, an award-winning human rights lawyer, to nine years in prison for bribery and fraud. Kudratov, who was named human rights defender of the year in 2011 by the Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, represented political official Zaid Saidov in 2013 after he was arrested for starting a new political party. Before his arrest in July 2014, Kudratov also represented victims of torture, political activists and accused religious extremists. Many see Kudratov's imprisonment as a warning against criticism of the authoritarian government. Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the action "a serious setback for the freedom of expression."
It emerges that Facebook has deleted a post from Beijing-based Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser showing the self-immolation of Buddhist monk Kalsang Yeshi—the latest in a long string of such martyrs. Seemingly adopting a deliberately inarticulate style to lampoon the limits imposed by censorship, Woeser posted to her Facebook page after the deletion: "This ban, by deleting this, then banned, deleted, and proceed, then, and then, you know." She also compared the Facebook moderation team to a "little secretary"—a reference to Beijing's apparatchiks charged with enforcing censorship. (It isn't explained how Woeser maintains her Facebook page, given that the social network isn't accessible in China. Either she has found a way around the Great Firewall, or she posts via intermediaries abroad, presumably.) Facebook responded with a statement saying that the video was too graphic for its users. The statement claimed that in response to users' objections over graphic content, the company is "working to give people additional control over the content they see." But: "We do not currently have these tools available and as a result we have removed this content." (The Independent, Dec. 29; Inquisitr, Dec. 27)
The People's Court of Kashgar in China's western region of Xinjiang sentenced 22 people to prison terms for illegal religious activities and other crimes. The official Xinhua News Agency stated it is the latest response to growing Muslim extremism in the region. Prison sentences ranged from five to 16 years for crimes including "illegal religious activities," "inciting ethnic hatred" and "inciting quarrels." China's crime of "inciting quarrels" often covers what is seen as anti-state activity.