Central Asia Theater

Uighur leaders to al-Qaeda: No, thanks

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%.

Aral Sea almost gone: NASA

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."

Next: Free Siberia?

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.

Xinjiang: over 100 dead in Eid violence

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)

China: Uighurs defy Ramadan crackdown

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)

Urgent action for imprisoned Tibetan leader

Students for a Free Tibet have issued an urgent action alert for Khenpo Kartse, a respected Tibetan Buddhist abbot and human rights defender imprisoned by Chinese authorities for over six months. He is seriously ill with liver and lung disease, and recent reports state that he has been coughing up blood—but has been denied access to his doctor. The action alert calls for supporters around the world to conctact the local Chinese embassy and express concern for Kartse. Arrested in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in early December, Kartse is being held in the Tibet Autonomous Region's Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) prefecture, in "an extremely cold room with no access to sunlight" and is being inadequately fed, a source close to the case told RFA's Tibetan Service in March. After meeting for the first time with Kartse on Feb. 26, defense lawyer Tang Tian Hao called on Chinese authorities to allow regular medical examinations for the imprisoned monk, "as provided for under the law," the source said. Kartse—who holds the title “Khenpo” denoting a senior religious teacher or abbot—is being held on suspicion of involvement in "anti-state" activities at a monastery in Chamdo. Supporters say Kartse, who is also known as Karma Tsewang, is being persecuted for his work to promote the Tibetan language, culture, and religion. He was also active in social work in the Yulshul area, including in relief efforts following the devastating April 2010 earthquake.

Tibetan dissident film-maker released in China

International rights groups welcomed the release June 5 of Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen, who was imprisoned in China in 2008 for producing the documentary Leaving Fear Behindwhich depicted conditions faced by Tibetans under Chinese rule. Wangchen was released from prison in Qinghai's provincial capital, Xining, but faces an unspecified term of deprivation of political rights, according to Wangpo Tethong, a member of the Switzerland-based Tibetan film company Filming for Tibet who spoke to the New York-based Committee to Protect Jouranlists, which has rigorously campaigned for his release. "We are relieved that Dhondup Wangchen has been released, but Chinese authorities will never be able to return the six years they've already taken from him," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "China should seek to end its stigma as one of the world's leading jailers of the press by releasing the many journalists unjustly imprisoned for their work."

Xinjiang: officials sentence 55 in public rally

Chinese officials in the western region of Xinjiang on May 27 held a public rally at a sports stadium for the mass sentencing of criminals, in which 55 individuals were sentenced before a crowd of 7,000 people. While three received death sentences for crimes including "violent terrorism," other prisoners' crimes ranged from "separatism" to "membership in terror groups." Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have accused China's policies of being discriminatory against Uighurs, Muslims who speak a Turkic language. All individuals named at the sentencing rally [in the city of Yining, Yili prefecture] have Uighur names. This public stand against terrorism and extremism appears to be a response to the recent attacks in Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi.

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