China announced Dec. 26 the ratification of an extradition treaty with Turkey that it intends to use, inter alia, to accelerate the return of refugees and Uighur Muslims suspected of "terrorism." Since the 1950s, Turkey has welcomed Uighurs fleeing persecution in China. Uighurs and Turks have linguistic, cultural and religious ties. Currently, more than 50,000 Uighurs call Turkey home. While the treaty does provide grounds for refusal of extradition on the basis of Turkish citizenship, it is feared by many Uighurs that Chinese persecution will follow them to Turkey. "This extradition treaty will cause worry among Uighurs who have fled China and do not yet have Turkish citizenship," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, told AFP.
Can Dündar, the former editor-in-chief of newspaper Cumhuriyet, was convicted Dec. 30 on charges of terrorism in Turkey and sentenced in absentia. The Istanbul court found Dündar guilty of aiding a terrorist organization and espionage, sentencing him to 27 years and six months in prison. Dündar was first sentenced to five years in 2016 on espionage charges and attempting to overthrow the government for publishing footage that allegedly showed Turkey's state intelligence agency transporting weapons to Syrian rebels in 2014. Dündar was later released when the matter went to appeal. Upon his release, Dündar fled the country while another Turkish court ordered the seizure of his property and froze his bank accounts in October. He is now living in exile in Germany.
UN investigators into political violence in Mali reported to the Security Council that they found evidence that government forces have committed "war crimes," while jihadists and other armed groups perpetrated "crimes against humanity." The allegations are made in a 338-page report compiled by the International Commission of Inquiry, a three-member panel examining events in Mali over the six years after it spiralled into conflict in 2012. The Commission was created in January 2018 as part of the Agreement for Peace & Reconciliation between rebels and the government, which was signed in 2015 after years of fighting. The report, which has not yet been made public, recommends establishing a special court to try accused perpetrators. (France24, Dec. 23)
In Episode 59 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of Trump's evident preparation for a coup d'etat and what could be a culminating moment for the current crisis of American democracy. In the context of this dilemma, he discusses two very timely new books with similar titles that both examine the mechanics by which dictators seize and maintain power: Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy by Kenneth C. Davis and Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present by Ruth Ben-Ghiat.
India's Hindustan Times reported Dec. 25 that Afghanistan has busted a conclave of 10 Chinese espionage agents that was supposedly "operating a terror cell" in Kabul. Citing unnamed diplomats and security officials, the account claims Beijing has been trying to persuade the government of President Ashraf Ghani to hush up the case. The spies, said to be working for China's Ministry of State Security, were reportedly arrested by Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) on Dec. 10. At least two were said to be in contact with the Haqqani Network, now the inner core of the Taliban insurgency. Arms, ammunition and a quantity of ketamine were seized in the raids. One of the detained, identified as Li Yangyang, was said to have been gathering information about the activities of Uighur militants in Kunar and Badakhshan provinces. The latter province includes Afghanistan's eastern "panhandle" that extends to the border with China's Xinjiang region, and has been named before as a stronghold of Uighur militancy. Again citing unnamed sources, the account states: "One view within the Afghan security establishment is that the detainees were creating a fake East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) module in Afghanistan to entrap ETIM operatives in Afghanistan." ETIM is the supposed Uighur network blamed by Chinese authorities for sporadic armed attacks within the People's Republic over the past generation, although there is skepticism that it actually exists in any organized sense.
Libya's eastern warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive last year to capture the capital Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, threatened Dec. 24 to launch attacks on Turkish forces if Ankara doesn't withdraw troops and mercenaries sent in to back up the GNA. The ultimatum is a theat to the ceasefire that has largely held since it was signed in October. Haftar's comments came in response to the Turkish Parliament's move to extend for 18 months a law that allows the deployment of Turkish troops in Libya. "There will be no security or peace as long as the boots of the Turkish military are desecrating our immaculate soil," Haftar said in comments from his eastern stronghold of Benghazi on the 69th anniversary of Libya's independence. "We will carry weapons to bring about peace with our own hands and our free will."
Native American activist Winona LaDuke and a small group of opponents of the planned Line 3 oil pipeline project braved frigid winds Dec. 15 to demonstrate outside the Enbridge Energy office in Park Rapids, Minn. LaDuke and her self-proclaimed "water protectors" carried signs reading "Mother Earth Revolution," "We are here for the future," and "Protect climate, water, treaties." The planned pipeline would bring more shale oil from northern Canada to US markets. Local Ojibwe bands in Minnesota have brought legal challenge against the pipeline, asserting that the potential for oil spills from the line poses a risk to their treaty-guaranteed hunting, fishing and gathering rights.
Pakistani human rights activist Karima Baloch, 37, was found dead in Toronto, Canada, on Dec. 21. Baloch went missing the previous day. The Toronto Police stated that "officers have determined this to be a non-criminal death and no foul play is suspected." But Baloch, from Pakistan's restive Balochistan region, fled her country in 2015 because of threats on her life. As a campaigner with the Baloch Students' Organization, she had harshly criticized the Pakistani military and state over ongoing rights abuses in the region. She continued to campaign for the rights of people in Balochistan while in exile, and the threats against her did not stop after she left Pakistan. Baloch's close friend, Lateef Johar Baloch, told reporters that she had recently received anonymous threats.