Tag Archives: human rights

Dushanbe court sentences lawyer to 5-1/2 years in prison for Facebook post

JUNE 16 2021 (The Bulletin) — A court in Dushanbe sentenced Abdulmajid Rizoe, a human rights lawyer, to 5-1/2 years in prison for posting what it said were extremist comments on Facebook. In the offending comment, Rizoe quoted a poem that said “ignorant governments fight protesters”. He has denied any wrongdoing. Human rights activists have been increasingly concerned about Tajikistan’s commitment to political plurality. 

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— This story was published in issue 48 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 16 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Tajikistan accused of sending Uyghurs to China

DUSHANBE/JUNE 10 2021 (The Bulletin) — The Tajik government is rounding up Uyghurs and sending them to China where they are imprisoned in so-called re-education camps, rights activists told the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.

In a statement to the ICC, the East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE), an Uyghur group that wants to see an independent Xinjiang, said that Chinese agents were directing Tajik police in raids against Uyghurs. It said that the number of Uyghurs living ins Tajikistan had dropped to 100, from around 3,000.

“Those without the ‘correct paperwork’ are then deported back into China by Chinese authorities in small groups of up to 10 to avoid international attention,” the ETGE told the ICC. “The remaining Uyghurs are completely controlled by the Consulate and have to participate in weekly meetings with informers who report back to the Consulate.” 

Neither the Tajik nor the Chinese government has responded to the accusations. Tajikistan is a member of the ICC but China isn’t.

Western governments have accused China of trying to wipe out Uyghurs by imprisoning 1m Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz living in Xinjiang. China has denied the claims and said instead that it has set up a network of camps to re-educate Muslims to help them succeed in modern-day China.

Activists have accused the Kazakh and Kyrgyz governments of ignoring the plight of their people in China but this is the first time that a government has been accused of rounding up Uyghurs for the Chinese authorities. Activist hope that they are able to bring pressure on China by highlighting Uyghurs’ plight in Tajikistan.

Tajikistan has built up strong relations with China over the past decade, taking cheap loans to build roads and infrastructure and to beautify its towns and cities.  

In return, China has built up major political and economic patronage, controls many of Tajikistan’s most valuable mineral and energy assets and has reportedly set up a military base in the Tajik section of the Pamir Mountains.

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— This story was published in issue 48 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 16 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Yandex moves customer data onto local Uzbek servers

JUNE 3 2021 (The Bulletin) — Yandex Go, the Russia-based ride-hailing service, said that it had complied with new Uzbek legislation that requires internet and social media companies to store data belonging to their users on servers inside Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan, which passed the legislation in April, has said that the law has been introduced to protect people and is pressuring Facebook and other Western companies to comply.

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— This story was published in issue 487 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 9 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Kazakh authorities clamp down on anti-China protests

ALMATY/FEB. 10 2021 (The Bulletin) —  Apparently unconcerned by hardening language from the West towards Beijing and its treatment of ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs, the authorities in Kazakhstan jailed a man for protesting outside the Chinese consulate in Almaty. 

Media reported that police detained Baibolat Kunbolatuly, who was part of a 10-person protest mainly of women holding photos of missing sons, brothers and husbands outside the consulate the day before, and that a court then efficiently sentenced him to 10 days in jail for breaking rules around mass gatherings. In Kazakhstan, protests require written permission from the authorities.

Mr Kunbolatuly had been protesting against the disappearance of his brother in China, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. He suspects that his brother is being held in one of China’s, by now notorious, re-education camps which have been built in Xinjiang province over the past four years to hold hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

China has said that the camps are education-focused and that they are designed to help ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs improve themselves. Human rights groups have called them prisons, a view Western governments are coming round to. 

In Kazakhstan, reporting on the camps in Xinjiang has been minimal but protests against China and its actions in Xinjiang are becoming more widespread.

The issue of China’s treatment of its Muslim minorities in Xinjiang is a thorny issue for the Kazakh government. 

It is reliant on Chinese cash to fund various infrastructure projects and China is also a major stakeholder in Kazakh industry. The flipside is that there are an estimated 200,000 ethnic Kazakhs living in Xinjiang and a large ethnic Uyghur population living in Kazakhstan.

And, embarrassingly for Kazakh officials, the major information leaks from Xinjiang over the past few years have also come from Kazakhs escaping over the border into Kazakhstan. They now want to prove to their Chinese counterparts that they are reliable partners.

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— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Uzbekistan is making progress on eradicating forced labour, says ILO

FEB. 2 2021 (The Bulletin) — The International Labour Organisation (ILO), part of the UN, said that Uzbekistan was continuing to make good progress in eradicating forced labour in its cotton sector. The statement is important for Uzbekistan as its government has tried to persuade Western companies to lift a ban on products made using Uzbek cotton, a key export. The ban was imposed during Islam Karimov’s time as president. He died in 2016.

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— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Armenia and Azerbaijan submit competing cases to human rights court

FEB. 2 2021 (The Bulletin) — Armenia and Azerbaijan have both submitted cases against the other with the European Court for Human Rights linked to their war over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year. Azerbaijan won the war, humiliating Armenia and taking back control of the region. Armenia accused Azerbaijan of not treating POWs correctly and Azerbaijan accused Armenia of ignoring human rights during what it described as a 30-day occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.

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— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

European Court for Human Rights says Russia mistreated Georgian civilians in 2008 war

TBILISI/JAN. 21 2021 (The Bulletin) — Nearly 13 years after the case was originally submitted, the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia was responsible for crimes committed against Georgian citizens during a five-day war for control of South Ossetia in 2008.

It said that towards the end of the war in August 2008, Russian forces had been in control of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, when Georgian citizens were rounded up from their homes and kept prisoners in inhumane conditions in the basements of official buildings.

“The conditions of detention of some 160 Georgian civilians and the humiliating acts to which they had been exposed had caused them undeniable suffering and had to be regarded as inhuman and degrading treatment, the court said.

The court did rule, though, that at the start of the war, which ran between Aug. 8 – 12, South Ossetian militia was in control of Tskhinvali and Russia could not be held responsible for alleged war crimes during the first three days of the conflict.

Georgia lost the war, which the Kremlin said was started by the then Georgian President Mikheil Saakahsvili, but has since worked to discredit Russia.

Georgian politicians said that the ECHR ruling was an important win.  In a tweet, Georgian PM Giorgi Gakharia said that the ECHR’s ruling  was “one of the most important days in the history of Georgia”. It was probably no coincidence, either, that as the verdict was announced Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili was touring Brussels in another drive to build support for Georgia’s entry to the EU and NATO.

Russia, which is a member of EHRC, has said that the findings were biased and that it does not recognise them.

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— This story was first published in issue 469 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Fiji beats Uzbekistan to UN human rights chair

JAN. 15 2021 (The Bulletin) — Uzbekistan was beaten to the chair of the UN’s Human Rights Council by Fiji, the favoured candidate of Western nations. It was the turn of the Asia-Pacific region to head the council but regional members couldn’t agree on which country to put forward, triggering a vote between Uzbekistan, Fiji and Bahrain. Analysts said that the Uzbek and Bahrain candidates had been encouraged by Russia and China. 

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— This story was first published in issue 469 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Tajikistan acting as route for Turkey to send Uighurs to China -media

DUSHANBE/JULY 26 (The Bulletin) — Tajikistan is acting as a secret channel for Turkey to deport Uighurs to China where they are interned in so-called re-education camps, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The newspaper quoted lawyers in Turkey and family members of deported Uighurs who said that China was making hundreds of demands on Turkish authorities to deport Uighurs and that they were now using third countries, such as Tajikistan, to deport them.

The Telegraph documented how 59-year-old Uighur widow Aimuzi Kuwanhan, who had fled China for Turkey, had disappeared suddenly.

“A lawyer hired by her family subsequently discovered that she had been extradited to Tajikistan, despite having never lived there or having held Tajik citizenship. Sources who knew Kuwanhan say from there she was sent to China,” the Telegraph reported.

Turkey has denied the reports and Tajikistan has not commented but there has been an increase in the number of media and online reports from Istanbul of Turkish police and authorities detaining known Uighur activists this year.

Turkey, like Tajikistan’s neighbours — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan — has a sizeable ethnic Uighur population and it would have been politically impossible to deport them directly to China. Tajikistan, though, has close connections with China but no ethnic Uighur population. The plight of the Uighurs, and other Muslim minorities, in China’s Xinjiang province is not a major discussion point in Tajikistan.

This means that while Turkey has a policy of not sending Uighurs back to China, under pressure from various bilateral agreements that it has signed with Beijing, it could send them to Tajikistan. The authorities there would be able to send them on to China.

Over the past decade, Tajikistan has developed close relations with China relying on cheap loans from Beijing to upgrade its Soviet-era infrastructure and give its towns and cities facelifts. These loans have come with major political influence too and Tajikistan can now be relied upon by China to act as a loyal ally.

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— This story was published in issue 455 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on July 31 2020.

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020

Feted Kyrgyz human rights activist dies in prison

BISHKEK/JULY 25 (The Bulletin) — Azimzhan Askarov, one of Kyrgyzstan’s most high-profile prisoners, died in his cell aged 69.

The death of Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist considered by the West to be a political prisoner but by most Kyrgyz to be a troublemaker, will damage Kyrgyzstan’s already battered reputation for minority rights.

Announcing Askarov’s death, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Kyrgyz authorities had wanted him to die.

 “They had every opportunity to end his wrongful imprisonment, but each time they flouted their obligations,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at HRW. “They intended for him to die in prison, and so he has.”

The US and Western human rights groups had been calling on Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov from prison on humanitarian grounds. He had been ill for several years and had been given only a few months to live earlier this year.

But the Kyrgyz Supreme Court said that Askarov was a dangerous agitator who helped to whip up inter-ethnic tension in 2010 that led to fighting around Osh and Jala-Abad that killed several hundred people. He was imprisoned in 2010 for murdering an ethnic Kyrgyz policeman during the violence after a trial that human rights activists said was riddled with violations. They also said that Askarov had been tortured in prison.

In 2016, the UN asked Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov and re-run his trial and the US gave Askarov a prestigious human rights prize.

A Bulletin correspondent based in Jala-Abad, south Kyrgyzstan, said that while the death of Askarov had sparked some interest, there had been no protests. Most Kyrgyz agree that he was a troublemaker and ethnic Uzbeks don’t want to rock fragile ethnic relations.

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— This story was published in issue 455 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on July 31 2020.

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020