Central Asia Theater
An Australian think-tank released a report on the declining birth rates among the Uighur population in China's western Xinjiang province, concluding that birth-control policies imposed on the Uighurs by the People's Republic of China may constitute genocide. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) analyzed the publicly-available data on birth rates in China from 2011 to 2019, and found that birth rates among the Uighur ethnic minority dropped precipitously starting in 2017. The birth rate fell by almost half in the predominately Uighur province of Xinjiang, where a campaign to eliminate "illegal births" is being carried out.
The armed forces of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan clashed at a disputed section of their border on April 29, leaving 30 dead and thousands displaced before a ceasefire was declared. The fighting broke out near the strategic Golovnoi (also rendered Golovnaya) water pumping facility, in the Tajik-controlled exclave of Vorukh. Kyrgyz protesters gathered on their side of the de facto border after Tajik authorities installed surveillance cameras at the facility. The two sides began hurling rocks at each oher across the line before military troops intervened, and the situation escalated. The Golovnoi facility pumps water from the Isfara River, a tributary of the Syr Darya, to irrigate agriculture in the area. It is in the Fergana Valley, a small fertile pocket in the arid Central Asia region. Soviet authorities drew the boundaries so that Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan each got a portion of it. However, this meant intricate, twisting borders between these nations, and territorial disputes have arisen.
A court in Kazakhstan on March 4 sentenced two activists to two years of "freedom limitation" (similar to probation) for their involvement with banned political groups. The court in the southern city of Taraz found Nazira Lesova and Nazira Lepesova guilty of organizing and participating in prohibited demonstrations as part of their activities with the groups Koshe (Street) Party and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK). The sentences came two days after Zhazira Qambarova, another DCK activist, was also sentenced to two years of "freedom limitation" for similar activities. The three women were arrested in February and are among several activists across Kazakhstan who have been arrested for participating in demonstrations ranging from marches in support of women's rights to rallies calling for pro-democratic governmental reforms.
The State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan reported Jan. 27 the detention of Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev, the former prime minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, on charges of corruption and illegal enrichment. The arrest took place under the pre-trial framework of the Kyrgyz Criminal Procedure Code. Following Article 98 of the Code, Abylgaziev is being held on suspicion in a temporary detention facility while the investigation continues. The State Committee has alleged that during his tenure as prime minister, Abylgaziev violated the law by signing a government decree providing Kumtor Gold Company CJSC additional territories for geological exploration and gold mining. Consequently, the total area of the mine doubled, contravening a previous decree banning the expansion of the mine so as to protect the fragile ecosystem of the Issyk-Kul Lake region.
Top Chinese technology firms have registered patents for tools apparently designed to detect, track and monitor Uighurs, according to research by the Pennsylvania-based video surveillance watchdog group IPVM. A 2018 patent filed by Shenzhen-based tech giant Huawei with the State Intellectual Property Office (since reorganized as the China National Intellectual Property Administration, CNIPA) lists attributes by which an individual may be targeted, including "race (Han, Uighur)." This comes a month after IPVM released details of a document issued by Huawei and its Beijing-based corporate partner Megvii, "Huawei Video Cloud Solution and Megvii Dynamic Face Recognition Interoperability Test Report," which boasted of a "Uighur alarm" among the "basic functions of Megvii's facial recognition system."
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.
International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors on Dec. 15 rejected a complaint filed by exiled Uighurs calling for an investigation of China on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The complaint was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds; the People's Republic of China, like the United States and Russia, does not recognize the ICC. The office of chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated in a year-end report on preliminary examinations: "This precondition for the exercise of the court's territorial jurisdiction did not appear to be met with respect to the majority of the crimes alleged."
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan unveiled a new constitution on Nov. 17, drawing criticism over the expansion of presidential powers. Shortly after a draft of the document was released, politicians and activists expressed concerns that it would lead to full-blown authoritarianism. Among the many changes, it reduces the size and power of parliament. Any responsibilities taken from parliament were transferred to the presidency. Significant differences exist between the Russian and Kyrgyz language versions, making it unclear whether the president could serve one or two terms. It would also establish a People's Kurultai, an ad hoc body consisting of members of the public that would propose policy changes. The drafters insist that the body would promote popular representation. Critics view it as potentially easy to manipulate. They also question the necessity, given that parliament already consists of elected representatives. Kyrgyzstan uses a proportional representation system, with seats apportioned between the parties based on the percentage of the national popular vote received.