Central Asia Theater
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.
The first issue of Resurgence (PDF), an English-language magazine produced by al-Qaeda's media wing, as-Sahab, includes an article on Xinjiang, or, as they call it, "East Turkistan"—the homeland of the Muslim Uighur people in China's far west. Entitled "Did You Know? 10 Facts About East Turkistan," it includes such blatantly false claims as that teaching the Koran is illegal in China, punishable by 10 years in prison, and that Muslim women caught wearing the hijab can be fined more than five times the average annual income of the area. It also claims that following its takeover in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party murdered some 4.5 million Muslims in Xinjiang. It mixes up these fictions with legitimate grievances, such as that China conducted numerous nuclear weapon tests in Xinjiang (the Lop Nur site)—but claims the radioactive fallout from these killed a wildly improbable 200,000 Muslims. It is more on target in noting the demographic tilt away from the Uighurs in Xinjiang: "In 1949, 93 percent of the population of East Turkistan was Uyghur, while 7 percent was Chinese. Today, as a result of six decades of forced displacement of the native population and the settlement of Han Chinese in their place, almost 45 percent of the population of East Turkistan is Chinese." Even this is overstated, however; both BBC and Wikipedia say that it is the Uighurs who make up some 45% of Xinjiang's population, ahead of the Han Chinese who constitute around 40%.
A large section of the Aral Sea has completely dried up for the first time in modern history, according to NASA. Images from the US space agency's Terra satellite released last week show that the eastern basin of the Central Asian inland sea—once the fourth largest in the world—was totally parched in August. Images taken in 2000 show an extensive body of water covering the same area. "This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times," Philip Micklin, a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University told NASA's Earth Obsrvatory. "And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea."
Shelling in the rebel-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk left two dead Sept. 17, despite a ceasefire and a law passed by Kiev's parliament a day earlier granting greater autonomy to the country's east. Fighting centered on the city's airport, which remains in government hands, with nearby neighborhoods caught in the crossfire. Civilian casualties have continued to rise since the supposed ceasefire, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed in the conflict so far. (The Independent, Sept. 17) In an asburd irony little noted by the world media, as Vladiimir Putin backs the brutal "People's Republics" (sic) in eastern Ukraine, he has cracked down on a separatist movement that has emerged in Siberia. Last month, when the Ukraine crisis was at a peak, Russian authorities banned a Siberian independence march and took hrash measures to prevent the media from even reporting it—threatening to block the BBC Russian service over its coverage of the movement. BBC's offense was an interview with Artyom Loskutov, an organizer of the "March for Siberian Federalization," planned for Aug. 17 in Novosibirsk, The Guardian reported.
Chinese authorities now say more than 100 people were killed in violence in Xinjiang on July 28. The official Xinhua news agency says 59 attackers and 37 civilians lost their lives when a gang armed with knives and axes attacked a police station and government offices in Elixku township, Yarkand county (Chinese: Shache), Kashgar prefecture. Some moved on to the nearby Huangdi township, attacking civilians and smashing vehicles. Six vehicles were set on fire. In a separate incident, nine militants were shot dead and one captured in a rural area close to Hotan. More than 30,000 (presumably Han) civilians were reportedly mobilized in the "counter-terrorism" operation. The violence came on the day of the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of Ramadan, and may have been in reaction to official restrictions on honoring the holy day. (SMH, Aug. 3; Xinhua, RFA, July 29)
Authorities in China's Xinjiang region are stepping up security measures in the wake of a stabbing attack that left six Han Chinese farmers dead last week. Security forces shot dead a Uighur man and captured five Uighur suspects following the July 9 incident at Village No. 7 in Uchturpan (Chinese: Wushi) county, Aksu prefecture. (RFA, July 17) Chinese authorities have reportedly ordered mosques in in regional capital Urumqi to use the holy month of Ramadan to publicize Beijing's "anti-terrorism" campaign. Ramadan this year precedes the fifth anniversary of deadly ethnic riots that left nearly 200 dead in 2009. Dilxat Raxit of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said: "Between 10 and 18 security personnel have been stationed inside every mosque in the city for surveillance. Also, all mosques are being required to ensure that the surveillance cameras installed there are in normal working order." (RFA, June 28) Authorities have barred government employees and school children from fasting for Ramadan, in what the WUC says is now an annual attempt at systematically erasing the region's Islamic identity. (Al Jazeera, July 5)