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Qishloq Ovozi

Tajik opposition activists rally in Berlin on December 10.

As the world marked the 70th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, Tajikistan's government attracted unwanted attention at home and abroad.

In Berlin, a group of Tajik opposition activists whose political parties have been banned in Tajikistan rallied outside that country's embassy and then outside the Bundestag. They were from the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

In Auschwitz, Poland, representatives of another Tajik opposition organization -- Group 24 – attended a conference marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, where they accused Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and his government of violating the personal and constitutional rights of citizens of Tajikistan.

As its name suggests, the IRPT is a religiously based opposition party. It partnered with President Emomali Rahmon for some 18 years in a government that worked under a secular constitution. Tajik authorities declared the IRPT an extremist group in late 2015.

The much smaller Group 24 is a secular opposition group founded by a formerly successful Tajik businessman whose fortunes appear to have dwindled when he was joined in business by one of the president's sons-in-law. Tajik authorities declared Group 24 an extremist organization in 2014. The leader of Group 24, Umarali Kuvvatov, was shot dead in Istanbul in March 2015.

Some members of both parties fled Tajikistan if they were able, and some of them were in Berlin on December 10.

IRPT leader Mihiddin Kabiri was there, leading more than 200 supporters of his own party and other opposition activists in calling on authorities to release party members who are currently imprisoned in Tajikistan.

Tajik opposition supporters were advertising the rally in Berlin many days ahead of the event, so the authorities in Dushanbe were aware it was coming.

There were reports that a pro-government youth group called Avangard planned to demonstrate outside the German Embassy in Dushanbe on December 10 to protest Germany providing refuge to "terrorists." That rally apparently never materialized.

News Websites Blocked

What emerged instead was a statement from the embassies of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the United States, and the representative office of the European Union in Tajikistan expressing concern about the "continuing periodic blocking of news websites, including Asia-Plus and [RFE/RL's] Radio Ozodi, and also social networks."

The statement, released in English by the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan, called on Tajik authorities to ensure freedom of the press. The group reminded "the right of a person to express their views is universal, regardless of whether it is carried out on a public platform or on the Internet."

It is telling that Tajikistan -- and not any of the other Central Asian states -- was the focus this year as Human Rights Day was marked.

The Tajik rights situation has arguably deteriorated. Once known for having the only registered Islamic political party in the Commonwealth of Independent States, virtually all significant opposition parties and groups in Tajikistan have been crushed in recent years, along with fledgling independent media outlets that emerged after the 1992-97 civil war. Tajik authorities have imprisoned many opposition leaders (and often their lawyers as well) and followed and harassed political opponents who fled the country.

It is difficult to say what, if any, effect the Berlin rally and the statement from Western embassies might have on the Tajik administration's policies. But it is clear that the policies of the Tajik government are drawing negative attention, and an economically challenged country like Tajikistan, which lies in the high mountains in the middle of the Eurasian continent and faces security threats from southern neighbor Afghanistan, might need all the friends it can get.

But as it stands, Tajikistan is seemingly competing with Turkmenistan to be the most oppressive state in Central Asia in the eyes of the West.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
NOTE: This text was updated on December 17 to show that Group 24 held its own separate event on December 10 and was not part of the Berlin rally.
A Uyghur woman holds her baby at a market in Hotan in China's western Xinjiang region. (file photo)

China’s campaign against Uyghur nationalism, branded by Beijing as separatism, has abruptly spiked in the last two years and spread beyond just the Uyghurs.

Beijing’s earlier attempts to simply keep control over the Uyghurs of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have given way to an all-out offensive that has seen new regulations for clothing and personal appearance, restrictions on observing Islamic rituals, the closure of mosques, and the incarceration of more than 1 million Uyghurs, according to many reports, in so-called political reeducation camps.

The campaign, which is clearly targeting the Muslims of Xinjiang, has widened and no longer includes just Uyghurs. Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tatars, Hui (Han Muslims), and now there are even reports that some Uzbeks are also being taken to the reeducation camps in Xinjiang.

Some of those caught up in this huge net in Xinjiang are officially now citizens of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Their disappearance across the border in China has been noticed by relatives and friends in Central Asia, and those who have been released from these reeducation camps and crossed back into their new homelands in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are finding a growing domestic and international audience waiting to hear their stories.

The governments in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.

China is a major -- and often the major -- trading partner and investor in the Central Asian states, but the growing resentment among the people of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan over China’s policies in Xinjiang cannot be ignored by officials in Astana and Bishkek.

On this week's Majlis podcat, RFE/RL's media-relations manager, Muhammad Tahir, moderates a discussion on the repercussions of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang among the people and governments in Central Asia.

Participating in the discussion from Washington is Sean Roberts, the director of international development studies at George Washington University and a leading authority on the Uyghurs and Central Asia.

In the studio in Prague, we are joined by Tyntchtyk Chorotegin, a well-known Kyrgyz historian and former director of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service (known locally as Azattyk), and Torokul Doorov, the director of RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service (known locally as Azattyq).

I’ve been writing about the Uyghurs for many years, so I also had something to say about this shocking turn of events.

Majlis Podcast: The Repercussions Of Beijing’s Policies In Xinjiang
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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.