Central Asia Theater
Mongolian ecology activist Tsetsegee Munkhbayar, who was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2007 for his campaign to protect water sources from mining pollution, was sentenced on Jan. 21 together with four associates to 21 years in prison each for "acts of terrorism." Munkhbayar was arrested on Sept. 16 at a protest in front of the parliament building in Ulan Bator during which a firearm was discharged. Security officials also allegedly found an explosive device in a nearby building. While stating that it does not condone violence, the Goldman Prize asserts that "it is widely understood that the shot was not fired on purpose and nobody was injured." The protest was called by Munkhbayar's "Fire Nation" movement to oppose a new government contract with French company Areva to revive uranium exploration in the Gobi Desert, which traditional heders say has led to death and deformities among livestock. Mongolia's parliament is considering a bill to loosen restrictions on a hard-won environmental law that prohibit mining in the headwaters of rivers and other sensitive areas.
A court in China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region on Dec. 31 handed down prison terms to six herders who protested the seizure of local grazing land by a forestry company. Four received suspended sentences and were released, while two remain behind bars because they refused to plead guilty, rights groups and relatives said. The trial took place in Ongniud (Chinese: Wengniute) banner (county), which was the scene of protests last year when traditional lands of the local at Bayannuur gachaa (village) were turned over to the state-run Shuanghe Forestry Co. The six were arrested in June on charges of "sabotaging production management"—apparently a reference to blocking company equipment. The four who were released had to pay "compensation" to the company. The remaining two, named as Tulguur and Tugusbayar, each received terms of two years. The trial was closed to the public, and their relatives were only told of the sentence several days later. Nearly 200 herders staged protests in front of Ongniud city hall in late December as the case drew to a close. "The verdict is clearly unjust, this is a land dispute and not a criminal case," a lawyer for the defendants told Reuters by telephone, declining to be identified for fear of retribution.
Detained Uighur scholar and activist Ilham Tohti was accused by Chinese authorities of "separatism" in Jan. 25 statement, and formal charges against him are expected imminently. The Bureau of Public Security in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang province, said Tohti recruited followers through his website to incite ethnic hatred and spread separatist ideology. In an online statement, the bureau charged that Tohti told his students that Uigurs should use violence and oppose the government as China opposed Japanese invaders during World War II. It also claimed Tohti told his students that those who attacked Xinjiang police in previous incidents were heroes. "Ilham Tohti made use of his capacity as a teacher to recruit, lure and threaten some people to form a ring and join hands with key people from the East Turkestan Independence Movement to plan and organise people to go abroad to take part in separatist activities," according to the statement posted to the bureau's official Weibo feed.
A fire in the ancient Tibetan town of Dukezong, Yunnan province, destroyed hundreds of buildings, including one with Chinese-recognized "monument status" dating to the early 17th century, on Jan 11. The town is in Shangri-la county, and is a tourist attraction, as it was apparently the inspiration for the fictional Shangri-la. Two days earlier, a mysterious blaze badly damaged the Larung Gar Institute in Serthar, Sichuan province, one of the world's largest Tibetan Buddhist learning centers and home to some 10,000 monks and nuns. On Nov. 16, the Lithang Monastery, Sichuan, was also badly damaged in a fire, said to have been caused by faulty wiring. The string of incidents has caused Tibet solidarity websites to speculate on a possible arson campaign. The India-exiled Central Tibetan Administration only said it "prays for quick restoration" of the Larung Gar Institute, "which became one of most influential Tibetan Buddhist learning centres in Tibet following liberalisation of religious practice in 1980s after the Tibetan culture and religion suffered systematic annihilation during China's Cultural Revolution." Dukezong, Serthar and Lithang and all lie within the "Greater Tibet" claimed by the Central Tibetan Administration. (AP, CTA, SCMP, Shanghaist, Jan. 11; Save Tibet, Tibet Truth, Jan. 10; Tibet Post, Nov. 18)
A French court in Aix-En Province on Jan. 9 ordered the extradition of Mukhtar Ablyazov, Kazakhstan's former energy minister, accused of misappropriating $6 billion from BTA Bank. The French court agreed to the extradition requests from Russia and Ukraine, which both house BTA Bank branches, partly because France does not have an extradition agreement with Kazakhstan. In 2011 Ablyazov gained political asylum in the UK after alleging that he faced prosecution in Kazakhstan because he was the leading figure in the opposition against Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Ablyazov also claimed that he had been imprisoned for political reasons prior to these charges. Amnesty International urged against Ablyazov's extradition after the court's ruling. Julie Hall, AI expert on counter-terrorism and human rights, said, "Not only do we have fears that Ablyazov would not get a fair trial in Russia or Ukraine, there is a real danger that he will eventually end up in Kazakhstan, where he will be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment." She cited a report (PDF) on the routine cooperation of Russia and Ukraine with Central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan, to transfer suspects, often at risk of their human rights.
Sources in China's Sichuan province told the Tibetan exile media that a Tibetan monk in Ngaba county (Chinese: Aba) was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on charges of promoting efforts to "split the nation." The sentence was reportedly handed down against Shal-ngo Hortsang Tamdrin on Oct. 29, after he led a public prayer in Zamthang town for Tibetans who have self-immolated, and allegedly called for uniting "the traditional provinces of Tibet." Ngaba county is part of the traditional Tibetan region of Amdo, which is not recognized as an administrative entity by Chinese authorities. The public prayer reportedly took place in April at the Tsangpa Monastery, which was subsequently placed under heavy surveillance by a large contingent of security forces. The number of Tibetans who have self-immolated now stands at 122, with 104 fatalities, according to a count by exile organizations. (Tibet Post, Nov. 21)
New violence is reported from China's far western province of Xinjiang Nov. 16, when a group of Uighur youths attacked the police station in Siriqbuya (Chinese: Selibuya) township, Maralbeshi (Bachu) county, Kashgar prefecture. Two auxiliary officers were bludgeoned to death, and all nine of the attackers were reported to be killed. The youths were said to be armed with knives, swords and sickles The same town was also the scene of deadly clashes in April. Radio Free Asia, citing eyewitness accounts (presumably via cellphone), reported that "residents pleaded with the police not to kill the young Uyghurs"—implying at least some of the deaths may have been extrajudicial executions carried out after the attackers were pinned down or subdued. (Al Jazeera, Nov. 17; RFA, Nov. 16)
Ethnic Uighurs from around the world gathered in Washington DC this week to commemorate the anniversary of two short-lived independent republics set up by their forefathers within what is today the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. Around 100 Uighurs attended a ceremony Nov. 12 at Capitol Hill to remember the establishment of the East Turkestan republics on Nov. 12 in 1933 and 1944. Rebiya Kadeer, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, praised those who founded the republics, and called on the Uighur people to remain strong in the face of what she called a policy of "repression" under the current Chinese government. "The Uyghur people have been suffering under the oppressive government of China since the destruction of the Uyghur republics; however, the level of repression has since been extended to our beliefs and customs," she said at the ceremony at the Rayburn House of Representatives Office Building.