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Qishloq Ovozi

Uyghur women walk through a security checkpoint to enter a bazaar in Hotan, in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Lawyers for Uyghur groups have given new evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that allegedly shows the Tajik government is cooperating with Beijing to send Uyghurs to China, where they face detention and often much worse.

Tajikistan is not the only country targeted in the complaint submitted to the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor. Cambodia is reported to be another country that allegedly succumbed to Chinese pressure to detain and illegally extradite Uyghurs.

Numerous reports have claimed that the Chinese authorities have put more than 1 million Uyghurs and thousands of other mostly Muslim indigenous minorities in so-called reeducation camps, located mainly in the Uyghurs' traditional homeland in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China.

The Chinese say the camps are for vocational training and deny mistreatment of its occupants, despite testimony of detainees and other evidence suggesting otherwise.

Some rights groups say the involuntary incarceration and other more sinister acts against Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and ethnic Chinese Hui are part of a campaign to eradicate Islam and the cultures of these ethnic minorities from Chinese society.

Tajikistan and Cambodia are included in the official complaint because they are members of the ICC.

China is not an ICC member and so is outside the ICC's jurisdiction. "China is not a signed-up member of the ICC...[and believes it] cannot be investigated for what is happening," says Rodney Dixon, one of the lawyers handling the legal process for the Uyghur groups. "The fact is that we are now in a position where there is a very clear legal pathway to allow for the ICC to commence its investigations."

One of the places this investigation could begin is in Tajikistan.

According to a press release from the East Turkistan Government in Exile, one of the Uyghur groups trying to bring the case before the ICC, "Chinese authorities have committed unlawful acts including arrests, enforced disappearances, abductions, and deportations in Tajikistan, an ICC State Party."

The evidence that legal consul for the East Turkistan Government in Exile, the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, and individual Uyghur victims handed to the ICC prosecutor on June 10 purports that "members of the Chinese Public Security Bureau who are present in Tajikistan direct local Tajik police to carry out raids on the areas where Uyghurs live and work." It adds that those Uyghurs who did not have "correct paperwork" were "then deported back into China by Chinese authorities in small groups of up to 10 to avoid international attention."

The press release also provides a shocking figure, stating that "evidence gathered to date shows that over the past 10-15 years the number of Uyghurs living in Tajikistan has been reduced from an estimated 3,000 to approximately 100" and that most of these Uyghurs left Tajikistan "from 2016 to 2018."

There is also evidence that Tajikistan has played a role in facilitating the extraordinary rendition of Uyghurs from Turkey.

Radio Free Asia reported in August 2019 that "at least three ethnic Uyghurs have recently been deported to China from Turkey via Tajikistan."

Those three were Zinnetgul Tursun "and her two toddler daughters," all of whom were detained in Izmir, Turkey, and put on a July 31, 2019, flight from Istanbul to Dushanbe. Two Tajik passengers on that same flight said they saw how Tursun and her young children were taken into custody by Chinese police at the Dushanbe airport.

And they were not alone. The Tajik passengers said they saw five other people on the flight -- four women and a man -- who appeared to be Uyghurs on the flight.

Tursun's family in China later confirmed Zinnetgul and her children had been brought to China.

The identities and the fate of the other five people on the plane from Istanbul to Dushanbe, whom the Tajik passengers said looked to be Uyghurs, is unknown.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, sent a request for information to Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office about the accusations that Uyghurs were being brought from Turkey and handed over to Chinese security officials in Dushanbe, but did not receive a reply.

The legal team for the Uyghur groups originally submitted their complaint to the ICC prosecutor in July 2020, but it said it required further evidence to initiate an investigation.

According to the East Turkistan Government in Exile's website, the new evidence handed over on June 10 establishes "that the court has jurisdiction to open an investigation into the crimes being committed against Uyghurs by Chinese authorities."

Dixon said after handing over the new evidence that it "shows a highly organized and systematic plan by the Chinese authorities to round up Uyghurs living in an ICC State Party and deport them back into China, where they are never heard from again."

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (left) and his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rahmon, in Dushanbe on June 10. The new Uzbek leader has helped establish a much friendlier relationship with Tajikistan.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev visited Tajikistan on June 10-11 to build on momentum that has already led to a notable improvement in relations between the two nations.

The centuries-old ties between the Tajik and Uzbek people suffered greatly under Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, who closed off Uzbekistan’s borders with Tajikistan and increasingly cut back relations with the Tajik government.

Mirzioyev came to power in September 2016 after Karimov died, and the new Uzbek leader has helped establish a much friendlier relationship with Tajikistan.

On this week's Majlis podcast, RFE/RL media-relations manager Muhammad Tahir moderates a discussion on what has changed in Tajik-Uzbek ties since Mirziyoev has been Uzbekistan’s president and where this new spirit of cooperation might lead both countries.

This week’s guests are all speaking from Prague: Salimjon Aioub, the director of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi; Alisher Sydyk, the director of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik; and Bruce Pannier, the author of the Qishloq Ovozi blog.

Uzbek Leader Visits Tajikistan To Cement New Relationship
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Listen to the podcast above or subscribe to the Majlis on iTunes or on Google Podcasts.

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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 the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

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.

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