Central Asia Theater
Voters in Tajikistan on May 20 approved changes to the country's constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to rule indefinitely. Voters approved amendments to remove presidential term limits, lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 and ban religiously based political parties. The first provision allows Rakhmon, 63, to extend his rule, which he has held since 1992. The second provision would allow his son, Rustam Emomali, 29, to be able to run for president in the next election in 2020. The final provision would continue to ban the main opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, which was declared a terrorist organization and banned last year. Election authorites reported that the 41 proposed amendments were approved by 94.5% of voters, with 92% turnout.
A businessman from Yushu prefecture, Qinghai province, has spent more than six weeks in prison after his attempts to persuade the local government to provide Tibetan language information in schools were featured in a lengthy article in the New York Times last November. According to a new article in the Times, his family reports that he has been in police custody since January but they have not been allowed to see him and have not been informed of the reason for his detention. Tashi Wangchuk repeatedly expressed that his actions were not political and related solely to the preservation of Tibetan culture and he even offered praise to Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, any challenge to the authorities over matters to do with Tibetan identity risk being treated as "separatist"—a criminal offence carrying a potentially very lengthy prison sentence.
The first self-immolation in the Tibetan region this year was reported Feb. 29 as a monk set himself ablaze in a Tibetan-majority area of Sichuan province. Kalsang Wangdu self-immolated near the Retsokha monastery in Kardze prefecture, calling out for Tibetan independence as he burned. He died on the way to a hospital in the provincial capital of Chengdu. That same day, Dorjee Tsering, an exile-born 16-year-old student, set himself ablaze at Lakhanwala Tibetan settlement in Dehradun district of India's Uttarkhand state. He survived but is in critical condition, with burns on 95% of his body, and is currently undergoing treatment at a hospital in New Delhi.
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)