Artik Hadjiev is a middle-aged man with a gentle face and smiling eyes. Sitting in a Bishkek hotel lobby wearing a smart suit, he speaks quietly and eloquently about community building and collective aid. It is hard to believe that some could consider Hadjiev a threat to regional security.
But Hadjiev is the president of the Kyrgyz-Uighur Unity Association (ITTIPAK). And in a region where minority rights are a delicate topic, some governments are bound to view him as a potentially dangerous individual.
Across the border, China’s conflict with Uighurs in Xinjiang Province has worsened this year, featuring deadly clashes in July and a life sentence on separatism charges given to Uighur economics professor Ilham Tohti in September. China is Kyrgyzstan’s largest trading partner and Bishkek is eager to please Beijing. Thus, Uighur activism in Kyrgyzstan tends to come under intense scrutiny from both countries’ security agencies.
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Cristina Maza is a freelance journalist.