Chinese authorities are on high alert in western Xinjiang province after the appearance of an Islamic State propaganda video featuring militants from China’s Uighur ethnic minority group.
In the 30-minute video, distributed by the Al-Furat Province division of Islamic State (IS) in western Iraq, heavily armed fighters and children give speeches, pray, and even kill “informants.”
One Uighur fighter is filmed saying, “Oh, you Chinese who do not understand what people say. We are the soldiers of the Caliphate, and we will come to you to clarify to you with the tongues of our weapons, to shed blood like rivers and avenge the oppressed.”
The video released in late February marks perhaps the most serious IS threat against Chinese territory since the militant group encouraged its fighters to launch operations in China more than two years ago.
Chinese officials are taking this threat seriously. In early March, a spokesperson from China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing was ready to work with the international community to combat terrorism. Normally, China has dealt with security issues on its own, or has worked with other states within the framework of regional groupings, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS).
Beijing has long worried that disaffected ethnic Uighurs — a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in Xinjiang and in neighboring Central Asian states, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan — would attract the attention of, and support from, Islamic State.
Russia has once again slapped major restrictions on Tajikistan-based private carrier Somon Air in the latest installment of a long-running saga.
The Transportation Ministry in Moscow was candid in a statement over the weekend that it adopted the measure in a tit-for-tat response to Tajikistan’s refusal to grant landing rights to Russia’s Yamal Airlines.
The dispute stems from a petty disagreement over what airlines are allowed to operate which routes and has been rolling on since early November, so some background is in order.
Dushanbe fired the first salvo by refusing to give clearance to flights arriving from the Zhukovsky airport in the Moscow region, to which Russia reacted by threatening a complete halt of all flights to Tajikistan.
After multiple rounds of bickering, Tajikistan agreed to allow Yamal Airlines, a Russian airline based in the northern Siberian town of Salekhard, to fly once a week to Dushanbe and the northern city of Khujand.
The matter appeared to have been definitively put to rest following the visit to Dushanbe from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov in late January.
Tajikistan’s Somon Air was again granted the right to fly to four Russian cities — Krasnoyarsk, Krasnodar, Orenburg and Ufa. And for its part, Dushanbe relented by finally giving clearance to flights arriving from Zhukovsky airport.
Not so fast.
It would now appear that Yamal Airlines is now intent on securing yet more flights — four weekly to Dushanbe and three to Khujand — but Tajikistan does not seem to think that was part of any deal.
Kazakhstan has successfully argued in a US appeals court that it can file suit against a former top official — an avowed foe of the government — in California for compensation over alleged acts of corruption that occurred more than a decade ago.
The Justice Ministry said in a statement on March 31 that Almaty city hall will now be able to proceed in seeking recourse for what it says was Viktor Khrapunov’s systematic looting of state assets. The ministry argues that by using those funds to invest in properties in the United States, Khrapunov has left himself open to anti-corruption legislation there.
“This ruling is the result of consistent work against corruption. Now, the lawsuit filed by Almaty against Khrapunov will be considered on its merits in the state of California,” the ministry said.
The verdict from the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit on March 30 overturns an earlier ruling by US District Court for the Central District of California.
Khrapunov was a high-profile government official in the 1990s. In 1995, he headed the Energy and Coal Industry Ministry, and then from 1997 to 2004, he served as mayor of Almaty. After that he was named governor of the East Kazakhstan region.
In 2007, he was appointed Emergency Services Ministry, but resigned his post some 10 months later. A few days after stepping down, he reputedly hopped onto a private jet and flew to Switzerland; to treat some unspecified health condition, according to Khrapunov’s own website.
Khrapunov is object of more than 20 criminal investigations in his homeland.
Teachers in Kazakhstan have reportedly complained that their bosses are forcing them to buy tickets for the EXPO-2017 world fair in Astana, raising questions about the extent authorities are going to in trying to make the event a success.
Organizers of the event have said they are concerned by the reports and are taking measures to stamp out such occurrences.
As Nur.kz has reported, tickets can range upward of 4,000 tenge (around $13), which while not huge, is an unwelcome bite out salaries that are anything but generous. According to official figures, teachers in secondary schools averagely make around 109,000 tenge ($350) a month.
EXPO-2017, which opens its doors on June 10 and runs through to September 10, is devoted to the theme of optimizing energy use. Hundreds of nations and dozens of companies are slated to participate. Organizers have optimistically predicted that 2 million people will flock to the exhibition.
But RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyk, has reported that some arm-twisting may be required to hit that target. A teacher at a school in the Zaisansky district in the East Kazakhstan region told the broadcaster that he was required to buy a ticket by his superior. Twenty tickets were brought to his place of work to be sold in a similar fashion, he said.
“E-tickets were sent by the regional administrative center. The school has to buy 20 tickets. A few teachers have bought tickets for 6,000 tenge. But I am not going myself. During the exhibition, it will be time for gathering in the hay,” he said.
The Interior Ministry in Kyrgyzstan is pushing for new rules that would allow them to expel foreigners from the country without need for a court ruling, thereby streamlining the process.
Officials say revisions to the law are intended to target people violating migration laws. They come on the heels of the Kyrgyz authorities’ recent decision to summarily expel a Russian journalist from the country without clear legal justification.
If the changes are adopted, expulsion can take place along either “administrative” or “mandatory” lines. In the case of the latter, the foreigner will be permitted to try and resolve their issue or leave the country independently, and the decision will be subject to appeal.
In the latter case, however, foreigners can be forcibly removed under the supervision of the State Committee for National Security, the border service and the police. And this would happen without a court decision.
Proponents of the revised rules say they will help fight against labor migrants violating the law. It will also clear up existing contradictions in the law, they say.
Advocacy groups are not so certain, however. The doubts arise following what amounted to the deportation of Grigory Mikhailov, a formerly Bishkek-based editor with Regnum news website. As Mikhailov explained in an interview to fergana.ru, his removal from Kyrgyzstan earlier this month was engineered largely by subterfuge. When he was stopped in the street by police and found not to have some necessary paperwork, the officers suggested he cross the land border into Kazakhstan and then immediately return — a common trick among foreigners seeking to avoid the tribulations of the registration process in Kyrgyzstan. But when the reporter attempted to return, he was informed that he had been blacklisted.
The major devaluation of its national currency notwithstanding, Kazakhstan reported a 23.5 percent drop in trade with its partners in the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union in 2016, compared to the year before.
Finprom.kz reported gloomily on March 28 that despite efforts by Kazakhstani producers to slash prices for their goods, the overall value of exports is falling, and falling hard.
The situation is an altogether paradoxical one.
In 2016, the price for finished goods exported within the EEU were 1 percent lower than the year before — the price for raw goods was 8 percent down. Only the cost of semi-finished products was up by 2.8 percent. So in total, Kazakhstan exported $3.9 billion worth of goods to its EEU partners.
Over that same period, the price of goods imported from EEU nations rose across all categories: raw goods by 14.7 percent, semi-finished products by 9.5 percent and finished goods by 14 percent. But overall imports fell by 13.7 percent to $9.7 billion, which still represents a hefty trade imbalance.
Reducing the cost of exports was made possible by the weakening of the national currency, the tenge, which has been in a free-float since August 2015. Proponents of devaluation had argued that the the policy would be a boon to Kazakhstan’s producers and, conversely, dampen demand for cheap imports, particularly from Russia.
Kazakhstan’s government is now turning its attention to what it is grandly dubbing its “Third Modernization,” which implies the prioritization of developing the non-raw material sector. The aim is to double the export of non-raw goods by 2025.
Before then, the EEU may not be bringing much joy to Astana.
A court in Kazakhstan has entered a second week of hearings in the trial of a trade union activist accused of whipping up unrest among industrial workers in the west.
Nurbek Kushakbayev stands accused of inciting a strike in December by several dozen employees of Techno Trading Ltd, a company based in western Kazakhstan. The workers declared they were going on a partial hunger strike in a demand for improved working conditions and an increase in their wages. Kushakbayev is accused of giving strikers advice on how to formulate their demands.
His trial is taking place in the capital city, Astana, 1,700 kilometers away from where the company is based, for reasons that have not been clarified by prosecutors.
On March 28, Kushakbayev’s lawyer, Tulegen Shaikov, appealed for the judge, Aizhan Kulbayeva, to recuse herself, arguing that she was unfairly favoring the prosecution, but the motion was denied.
Kushakbayev’s trial is widely seen as linked to his union consultancy activities at Oil Construction Company (OCC), which is also based in the west, in the city of Aktau. Hundreds of workers there also went on hunger strike earlier this year.
A separate trial for Amin Yeleusinov, the main union leader at OCC, is expected soon, although no date has been set.
Kushakbayev and Yeleusinov were both arrested in the days after the OOC strike was forcibly brought to a close amid a welter of fines and further threats of prosecution against workers.
The trial against Kushakbayev opened on March 17.
Prosecutors accuse Kushakbayev of willfully causing mischief by giving legal advice to the Techno Trading Ltd strikers.
International freedom of speech campaigners have penned an appeal to Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev to guarantee the safety of jailed journalist Zhanbolat Mamay and to ensure an impartial investigation into his case.
Mamay’s supporters say his arrest was a politically motivated reprisal for his criticism of the government.
The campaigners expressed their “profound concern about the arrest and continued persecution” of Mamay in their appeal, which was released on March 27. Signatories include 29 Kazakhstani and international human rights groups and freedom of speech watchdogs, including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship and Article 19.
Mamay, the editor of what was until recently one of Kazakhstan’s last surviving independent newspapers, Tribuna, was arrested last month on suspicion of using the outlet as a channel for money-laundering. Investigators have accused him of using the newspaper to launder the sum of $110,000 on behalf of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakhstani businessman and political opponent of Nazarbayev’s.
“We have concerns about his security,” Inga Imanbay, a Tribuna journalist and Mamay’s wife, told EurasiaNet.org. “This is a political case and we understand that he might receive a jail term, but the most important thing for us right now is that he should come out alive and well.”
The public appeal to Nazarbayev comes after Mamay went public last month with claims that he had been beaten up by fellow prisoners, which Imanbay said was an attempt to pressure him to confess.
A man attending a rally in support of detained opposition politician Sadyr Japarov being dragged away by a police officer on March 25, 2017. (Photo: Danil Usmanov)
A self-exiled and wanted opposition politician returned to Kyrgyzstan on March 25 to face questioning by the security services, sparking a rowdy demonstration by his indignant supporters that degenerated into ugly scuffles with police.
The Interior Ministry said 68 people were detained following the clashes.
This episode of unrest has further ratcheted up unease in a decisive election year as authorities step up pressure against the opposition and independent media.
Sadyr Japarov, a member of the nationalist Ata-Jurt party, returned to Kyrgyzstan after spending four years in neighboring Kazakhstan, where he was evading arrest for his alleged involvement in whipping up disturbances in a regional town in 2013.
After Japarov arrived the Bishkek headquarters of State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, where he was taken after being detained at the land border with Kazakhstan, several hundred people — mostly young men — identifying as his supporters, mustered at the building. Some chanted: “Free Japarov!”
A lawyer for Japarov, Sharadidin Toktosunov, said the detention of his client was illegal, as he was initially summoned only as a witness, but was now being subjected to questioning.
Investigators accuse Japarov of funding the organization of violent protests in October 2013 in the Issyk-Kul region — ostensibly in favor of nationalizing the economically vital Kumtor gold field — with a view to sowing political unrest. During those protests in the town of Karakol, crowds reportedly took Issyk-Kul governoror Emil Kaptagayev hostage. According to some accounts, Kaptagayev’s captors at one stage doused him in petrol and threatened to set him alight.
The GKNB accuses Japarov of directing that alleged kidnapping.
One of the youngest and most active members of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has been expelled from the pro-presidential Social-Democratic Party (SDPK).
The SDPK’s political council explained on March 24 that the views of Zhanar Akayev, 31, had drifted too far from its official platform.
The speculation is that the decision was taken following Akayev’s decision to participate in a march last weekend in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, in defense of media outlets being sued by the General Prosecutor’s Office on behalf of President Almazbek Atamabayev.
Akayev has said that he is not taking the expulsion to heart and that his colleagues were most likely “fulfilling an order” — implying the instruction was handed down by the president’s office.
“A person that tells the truth but who finds himself among liars and sycophants will always be considered an extremist,” he said.
In a previous life, Akayev worked for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk, which is one of the outlets facing the libel lawsuits. He has regularly spoken in defense of his old employer despite Atambayev’s recurring criticism.
Commenting on the situation, Atambayev questioned how it was that Akayev even got into parliament in the first place.
“At the next parliamentary elections we will find out whether it was the people that picked him or whether he got in thanks to SDPK,” Atambayev said.
Akayev will remain in parliament and has said that he has no immediate intention to join the ranks of any of the opposition parties.
Atambayev’s brand is indelibly associated with that of the SDPK, although as president he is in theory not permitted to be involved in party political activity. Occasional remarks, like those on Akayev, however, appear to give lie to his claims that he no longer retains operation influence over the party.