KYIV, Ukraine — The Crimean Peninsula dangles off Ukraine’s southern coast like a diamond, blessed with a temperate climate, expansive beaches, lush wheat fields and orchards stuffed with cherries and peaches.
It is also a critical staging ground for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Connected via bridge to Russia and serving as a home to Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, Crimea provides a vital link in the Russian military’s supply chain that supports tens of thousands of soldiers now occupying a vast swath of southern Ukraine.
For President Vladimir V. Putin, it is hallowed ground, having been declared part of Russia by Catherine the Great in 1783, helping pave the way for her empire to become a naval power. The Soviet ruler Nikita S. Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. And because Ukraine was then a Soviet republic, not much changed.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed nearly four decades later, Russia lost its jewel. Mr. Putin thus claimed to be righting a historic wrong when he illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
Mr. Putin promised at the time that he had no intention of further dividing Ukraine. Yet eight years later, in February, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers stormed north out of the peninsula, kicking off the current war.
In recent days, military targets in Crimea have come under attack, and the peninsula once again finds itself at the fulcrum of a great power struggle.
Early in the war, Russian troops surging from Crimea seized swaths of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions that remain the key to Russia’s occupation of southern Ukraine.
Crimea, in turn, offers key logistical support for Russia to maintain its occupation army, including two main rail links that Russia relies on for moving heavy military equipment. Crimean air bases have been used to stage sorties against Ukrainian positions, and the peninsula has provided a launching ground for long-range Russian missiles.
The peninsula is also home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, helping Russia maintain dominion over the sea, including a naval blockade that has crippled Ukraine’s economy.
A Place in the Sun
Russia is cold — a fifth of the country is above the Arctic Circle. But it can be positively balmy in the sun-drenched Crimean city of Yalta.
“Russia needs its paradise,” wrote Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s general and lover, when he urged her to claim the land.
Crimea is where czars and Politburo chairmen kept vacation homes. Before the West imposed sanctions on Russia for illegally annexing the peninsula, it was a place where wealthy Eastern Europeans went to unwind and party.
“Casinos buzz and ping everywhere amid the city’s pine-bowered alleyways,” a New York Times Travel article proclaimed about Yalta in 2006, adding: “Much — if not everything — goes in this seaside boomtown.”
Tourism fell steeply after 2014. But when explosions rang out at an air base last week near Crimea’s western coast, there were still visitors at nearby resorts taking photos and videos as black smoke obscured the sun.
Ties to Russia
“Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people,” Mr. Putin declared in his 2014 address marking the annexation. But his is a selective reading of history.
Over the centuries, Greeks and Romans, Goths and Huns, Mongols and Tatars have all laid claim to the land.
And perhaps no group in Crimea has watched the unfolding war with as much trepidation as the Tatars, Turkic Muslims who migrated from the Eurasian steppes in the 13th century.
They were brutally targeted by Stalin, who — in a foreshadowing of the Kremlin’s justification for its current war — accused them of being Nazi collaborators and deported them en masse. Thousands died in the process.
In 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, allowed Tatars to return to Crimea. And before the 2014 annexation, they made up about 12 percent of Crimea’s population, numbering about 260,000 there.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch accused Moscow of intensifying the persecution of the Tatar minority in Crimea, “with the apparent goal of completely silencing dissent on the peninsula.”
An American held captive by the Russians during the Ukraine invasion was rescued after being held captive since 2021.
Terry Gately is a minister from Texas. He went to Kherson, before the Russian invasion, to visit his girlfriend and do volunteer work.
“They bag my head with a black bag, handcuffed me, put me in the van and started screaming at me in Russian,” Gately said.
He experienced first-hand the types of abuses by Russian authorities in occupied areas of Ukraine. Exposed in a new report from Human Rights Watch, and also a newly-declassified assessment from the U.S.’ Director of National Intelligence, they document Russia’s “arbitrary detention” of civilians and of torturing individuals in their so-called “filtration” camps.
U.S. Intelligence has identified 18 such facilities the Russians use to decide whom to send to Russia. In many cases, it’s for imprisonment.
The Russians occupied Kherson so fast in the first days of the war, few could escape.
“And I just happened to be in the one place that the Russians took on the first day. If I would have been anywhere else, I would have said, ‘oh, there’s a war. Well, I got to go’. But that didn’t happen,” Gately said.
He recorded photos and video of an increasingly terrifying life under Russian occupation.
“You can’t use your debit card anywhere because now they’re saying all this part of Russia. There are a lot of inconveniences. But the way Russia does things when they occupy, they let you know it’s theirs right from the get-go. And then they’re like a like a python that wraps itself around you. And as you exhale a little bit, it gets tighter,” he said.
In fact, Russian intelligence agents grabbed him off the street one day for questioning, throwing a bag over his head.
TERRY GATELY: I’m a 63 year old. Nobody. I mean, really, if you search everything about me, you’ll find out nothing because I am nothing. They let me go out for three hours and said I had to make three videos.
NEWSY’S JASON BELLINI: You were doing propaganda videos?
GATELY: A few days later I had to make the first video and it was with a Moscow TV crew. And I was on Moscow TV, apparently, and they basically said that I was okay. The Russian army was not hurting anybody in town and me, especially me, no one had hurt me. And they agreed to take me to the American Embassy in Moscow safely.
At that point, U.S. Embassy staff in Ukraine had long since been evacuated. But he says the State Department was following his case and warned him against going to Russia.
“TheState Department the next day called me and said, ‘under no circumstances whatsoever do you do that unless they force you. Do you understand?’ I mean, they were adamant,” Gately said.
Heeding the State Department’s advice, he told the Russians he did not want to go to Russia and finally decided to escape Kherson.
His escape was orchestrated by a group of American soldiers who had led rescues first in Afghanistan and then in Ukraine.
Bryan Stern heads the volunteer rescue group Project Dynamo; he told Gately to get on a specific bus that would take him to safety.
BRYAN STERN: We knew Terry was radioactive.
BELLINI: So to get someone like Terry out, you have to work with the Russians.
STERN: So ‘work with the Russians’ is the wrong way of saying it. ‘Work against the Russians and play chess against the Russians’ is more accurate.
GATELY: The bus driver will know you. The password is ‘white Mercedes.’ We have people on the bus that you don’t know about, but they’ll take it from there.
But he says over 50 Russian checkpoints stood between him and freedom.
“Every time they saw I was American. But this time they took me off the bus. Get me there, look through my phone, and I’m a licensed carry instructor for the state of Texas. So I got a lot of gun pictures. They swore up and down that I came to Ukraine to train people, to shoot, to use guns and kill Russian soldiers.” Gately said.
The Russians took him to a local prison similar to the filtration camps many are facing. Gately said he was tortured by not being allowed to sleep for more than three days.
“Every 15 minutes, they came in and said, ‘No sleep,'” Gately said.
He says he heard the screams of other prisoners who he thought were being tortured.
“From the screaming I was hearing those two days, I’m pretty sure it was, but I didn’t witness it,” he said.
Then, suddenly, without explanation, the Russians let him go, abandoning him on a street outside Kherson.
“I took off the bag and there was a guy standing there and he goes, you want to go to Zaporizhzhia? And I’m like. I sure do,” Gately said.
Stern won’t say how exactly he arranged for Gately to get to safety and return to the U.S., but Gately was fortunate. Untold Ukranians and even some Americans who disappeared are still missing.
The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.
Now, even their future is under surveillance.
The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.
They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.
automating systemic discrimination and political repression.
to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.
“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.
ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.
China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.
The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.
Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.
Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.
It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.
Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.
A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.
Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.
The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.
The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”
Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.
When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.
Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.
While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”
These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.
The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.
In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.
With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.
Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.
In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.
The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.
The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.
At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”
Toward Techno Totalitarianism
Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.
As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”
When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.
The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.
Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.
Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.
“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.
Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control.They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.
The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.
One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.
Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.
“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”
Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”
“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”
Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.
When the International Olympic Committee met seven years ago to choose a host for the 2022 Winter Games, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sent a short video message that helped tip the scale in a close, controversial vote.
China had limited experience with winter sports. Little snow falls in the distant hills where outdoor events would take place. Pollution was so dense at times that it was known as the “Airpocalypse.”
Mr. Xi pledged to resolve all of this, putting his personal prestige on what seemed then like an audacious bid. “We will deliver every promise we made,” he told the Olympic delegates meeting in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
host of the Summer Olympics, the Games have become a showcase of the country’s achievements. Only now, it is a very different country.
China no longer needs to prove its standing on the world stage; instead, it wants to proclaim the sweeping vision of a more prosperous, more confident nation under Mr. Xi, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Where the government once sought to mollify its critics to make the Games a success, today it defies them.
Beijing 2022 “will not only enhance our confidence in realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” said Mr. Xi, who this year is poised to claim a third term at the top. It will also “show a good image of our country and demonstrate our nation’s commitment to building a community with a shared future for mankind.”
Mr. Xi’s government has brushed off criticism from human rights activists and world leaders as the bias of those — including President Biden — who would keep China down. It has implicitly warned Olympic broadcasters and sponsors not to bend to calls for protests or boycotts over the country’s political crackdown in Hong Kong or its campaign of repression in Xinjiang, the largely Muslim region in the northwest.
combat Covid and imposed stricter safety measures than those during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year. It has insisted on sustaining its “zero Covid” strategy, evolved from China’s first lockdown, in Wuhan two years ago, regardless of the cost to its economy and its people.
an accusation of sexual assault by the tennis player Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian, the I.O.C. did not speak out. Instead, it helped deflect concerns about her whereabouts and safety.
staggering costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the white-knuckle chaos of preparations for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
blue skies. High-speed railways have slashed the trip from Beijing to the most distant venues from four hours to one.
In an area perennially short of water, China built a network of pipelines to feed a phalanx of snow-making machines to dust barren slopes in white. Officials this week even claimed the entire Games would be “fully carbon neutral.”
Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Games, said in an interview that China proved to be a partner willing and able to do whatever it took to pull off the event, regardless of the challenges.
“Organizing the Games,” Mr. Dubi said, “was easy.”
The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies overshadowing the Games. While the committee’s own charter calls for “improving the promotion and respect of human rights,” officials have said that it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.
Instead, what matters most to the committee is pulling off the Games. By selecting Beijing, the committee had alighted on a “safe choice,” said Thomas Bach, the committee’s president.
unseasonably warm weather. Sochi 2014 — intended as a valedictory of Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in Russia — cost a staggering $51 billion.
Growing wariness of organizing the quadrennial event gave China an unexpected advantage. Beijing — no one’s idea of a winter sports capital — could reuse sites from the 2008 Games, including the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony. The Water Cube, which held the swimming and diving events 14 years ago, was rebranded as the Ice Cube.
Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.
The final tally was 44 to 40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty’s supporters were left to fume over a glitch in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote.” That Kazakhstan has plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the Games seems now, in hindsight, further validation of the choice to pick Beijing.
Xinhua, compared to 480,000 three years before.
ceremonial scepter popular in the Qing dynasty, complete with a 6,000-seat stadium at the bottom that is supposed to hold soccer matches after the Olympics.
military preparations for the Games, including the installation of 44 antiaircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an aerial attack on the city seemed far-fetched.
“A safe Olympics is the biggest symbol of a successful Beijing Olympic Games, and is the most important symbol of the country’s international image,” he said then.
accusation of sexual harassment rocked the sports world last fall, the committee found itself caught in the furor.
fumed in private. Without the protective cover of the international committee, they feared reprisals if they spoke out individually.
The 2008 Olympics also faced harsh criticism. A campaign led by the actress Mia Farrow called the event the “genocide games” because of China’s support for Sudan despite its brutal crackdown in the Darfur region. The traditional torch relay was hounded by protests in cities on multiple continents, including Paris, London, San Francisco and Seoul.
The accusations against China today are, arguably, even more serious. The United States and other countries have declared that China’s crackdown against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. Ms. Farrow’s biting sobriquet has resurfaced for 2022, with a Twitter hashtag.
only screened spectators of its own choosing. It will mostly be a performance for Chinese and international television audiences, offering a choreographed view of the country, the one Mr. Xi’s government has of itself.
If the coronavirus can be kept under control, Beijing could weather the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the rights to the Games seven years ago. Mr. Xi’s government has already effectively declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already angling for the 2036 Summer Olympics.
“The world looks forward to China,” Mr. Xi said in an New Year’s address, “and China is ready.”
Chris Buckley contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Liu Yi and Li You contributed research.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — For decades, roughly a thousand families called the low-slung mud-walled neighborhood of Firqa home. Some moved in during the 1990s civil war, while others were provided housing under the previous government.
Soon after the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15, the new government told them all to get out.
Ghullam Farooq, 40, sat in the darkness of his shop in Firqa last month, describing how armed Taliban fighters came at night, expelling him at gunpoint from his home in the community, a neighborhood of Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan.
“All the Taliban said was: ‘Take your stuff and go,” he said.
Those who fled or were forcibly removed were quickly replaced with Taliban commanders and fighters.
Thousands of Afghans are facing such traumatic dislocations as the new Taliban government uses property to compensate its fighters for years of military service, amid a crumbling economy and a lack of cash.
under control of the Taliban. Across the country, there is widespread anxiety about the future.
The country is slightly smaller in land area than Texas, with a population that has grown in past decades to around 39 million people. Yet, only one-eighth of Afghanistan’s land is farmable and shrinking under a crippling drought and changes wrought from climate change.
Today’s land disputes in Afghanistan can be largely traced to the Soviet-backed regime that came to power in the late 1970s, which redistributed property across the country. This quickly fueled tensions as land was confiscated and given to the poor and landless under the banner of socialism.
Land redistribution continued to play out, first during the civil war in the early 1990s, and then under the rise of the Taliban. After the U.S. invasion in 2001, those same commanders who were once defeated by the Taliban went about distributing and stealing land once more, this time with the backing of the newly installed U.S.-supported government. American and NATO military forces contributed to the problem by seizing property for bases and doing little to compensate landowners.
Afghanistan Analysts Network, a policy research group, who focused on land ownership in Afghanistan. “So when the Taliban want to legalize or demarcate lands, they will also need to take back the lands from people who grabbed them in any period, in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and so on. This will be very challenging for them.”
In central Afghanistan, property disputes of another nature are playing out: the marginalization and displacement of ethnic minorities in order to seize their arable land. Taliban leaders have long persecuted and antagonized the Hazaras, a mostly Shiite minority, and in recent months, the new government has watched as local strongmen evicted hundreds of families.
In September, Nasrullah, 27, and his family fled their village in Daikundi Province, along with around 200 families who left nearly everything, he said.
Such displacements have upended more than a dozen villages in central Afghanistan, affecting more than 2,800 Hazaras, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
In recent weeks, local courts have overturned some seizures, allowing some families to return. But for most, the evictions have been traumatic.
“In each village the Taliban put a checkpoint, and the people aren’t allowed to take anything but our clothes and some flour,” said Nasrullah, who goes by one name, during an interview in September. “But I brought only my clothes.”
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar; Victor J. Blue from Kabul; Jim Huylebroek from Musa Qala; and Sami Sahakfrom Los Angeles.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The family was startled awake by a loud bang in the middle of the night on the gate of their home on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Police officers barged in without a warrant, ransacking the living room and looking under the beds. They seized three members of the family, among them a 76-year-old, one-legged amputee yanked from bed while his sons begged to go in his place.
“They showed him no mercy even after he cried, ‘I am disabled and diabetic,’” said the man’s nephew, Kirubel, who would give only his first name for fear of reprisals.
The family is among hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Ethiopians belonging to the Tigrayan ethnic group who have been rounded up and detained in the capital and beyond in recent weeks.
routed the Ethiopian army in Tigray, swept south, recently captured two strategic towns and threatened to advance toward the capital.
On Nov. 2, the government declared a state of emergency, and the resulting roundups have swept up anyone of Tigrayan descent, many of whom had no ties to the rebels or even affinity for them. They were not just young men and women, but also mothers with children and the elderly, according to human rights advocates and interviews with nearly a dozen family members and friends of detainees.
They have been seized off the streets, in their homes and even in workplaces — including banks, schools and shopping centers — and taken to overcrowded cells in police stations and detention facilities.
Tigrayans have been targeted by the police based on a mix of hints: their surnames, details listed on identification cards and drivers licenses, even the way they speakAmharic, the national language of Ethiopia.
said Tuesday through a spokeswoman. “Its provisions are extremely broad, with vague prohibitions going as far as encompassing ‘indirect moral’ support for what the government has labeled ‘terrorist groups.’”
The ethnically motivated detentions come amid a significant rise in online hate speech, which is only adding fuel to the civil war tearing apart Africa’s second-most populous nation. Reports of massacres, ethnic cleansing and widespread sexual assault by all sides in the conflict have undermined the vision of Ethiopian unity that Mr. Abiy, the prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, promised when he rose to power more than three years ago.
The war between Ethiopian federal forces and their allies and Tigrayan rebel fighters has left thousands of people dead, at least 400,000 living in famine-like conditions and millions displaced. It risks engulfing the whole of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa.
Mr. Abiy’s determination to prosecute the war seems to have been only hardened by economic threats from the Biden administration, which has imposed sanctions on his military allies in neighboring Eritrea and suspended Ethiopia from duty-free access to the U.S. market.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who is traveling to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal this week, has expressed worry that Ethiopia could “implode.”
defend the capital “with our blood” even as African and Western envoys sought to broker a cease-fire.
Police officials have defended the arrests, saying they were seizing supporters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the country’s former dominant party, which Ethiopia now classifies as a terrorist organization.
Activists, however, say the state of emergency provisions are so nebulous that they give security officials unfettered latitude. The provisions allow for the search of any person’s home or their arrest without a warrant “upon reasonable suspicion” that they cooperate with terrorist groups.
Laetitia Bader, the Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said “the state of emergency is legitimizing and legalizing unlawful practices” and creating “a real climate of fear.”
Many ethnic Tigrayans say they now fear leaving home. Almost all those who agreed to be interviewed declined to be identified by name for fear that they might be arrested or face retaliation.
began a military campaign in the country’s northern Tigray region, hoping to vanquish the Tigray People’s Liberation Front — his most troublesome political foe.
Rebels turned the tide. Despite Mr. Abiy’s promise of a swift campaign, the Ethiopian military suffered a major defeat in June when it was forced to withdraw from Tigray. Now the fighting is rapidly moving south.
Tigrayan forces close in. In late October, Tigrayan rebels captured two towns near Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. The government declared a state of emergency and called on citizens to arm themselves.
No end in sight. President Biden has threatened to impose sanctions on the country to coax the sides to the negotiating table, but the war’s current trajectory could cause the collapse of Ethiopia.
In Addis Ababa, security officers have demanded that landlords identify Tigrayan tenants. In one secondary school, a teacher said four Tigrayan teachers had been taken into custody as they ate lunch after officers arrived with a letter from the intelligence service containing their names.
A merchant in Addis Ababa, 38, was picked up by security officers after he opened his mobile phone accessories shop. A nearby shop owner phoned that news to the seized merchant’s wife, who said she left their two children with a neighbor and rushed to the shop — only to find it closed and her husband gone.
After a three-day search, the wife said, she found her husband in a crowded Addis Ababa detention facility with no proper bedding or food.
In Addis Ababa, rights groups say, police stations are so full of detainees that the authorities have moved the overflow to heavily guarded makeshift facilities, among them youth recreation centers, warehouses and one major prison. With no access to lawyers, some relatives of detainees say they will not approach these facilities, fearful they could be arrested too.
whistle-blower, have long accused Facebook of failing to moderate hateful incitement speech. With pressure mounting, Facebook this month deleted a post by Mr. Abiy urging citizens to “bury” the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Twitter also disabled its Trends section in Ethiopia, citing “the risks of coordination that could incite violence or cause harm.”
Timnit Gebru, an Ethiopian-born American computer scientist who spotted and reported some of the posts on Facebook, said the measures were insufficient and amounted to “a game of whack-a-mole.”
For now, many Tigrayans worry that it’s only a matter of time before they are seized. One businessman, who paid a $400 bribe for his release, said officers had told him they would come for him again.
It’s a fate Kirubel said he worried about as his disabled uncle and cousins remained detained.
“My children worry that I will not come back when I leave the house,” he said. “Everyone is afraid.”
Employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Its name translates into “floating island,” and for up to 100,000 desperate war refugees, the low-slung landmass is supposed to be home.
One refugee, Munazar Islam, initially thought it would be his. He and his family of four fled Myanmar in 2017 after the military there unleashed a campaign of murder and rape that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing. After years in a refugee camp prone to fires and floods, he accepted an invitation from the government of neighboring Bangladesh to move to the island, Bhasan Char.
Mr. Islam’s relief was short lived. Jobs on the island were nonexistent. Police officers controlled the refugees’ movements and sometimes barred residents from mingling with neighbors, or children from playing together outside. The island was vulnerable to flooding and cyclones and, until relatively recently, would occasionally disappear underwater.
So, in August, Mr. Islam paid human smugglers about $400 to ferry his family somewhere else.
“When I got the chance, I paid and left,” said Mr. Islam, who asked that his location not be revealed because leaving Bhasan Char is illegal. “I died every day on that island, and I didn’t want to be stuck there.”
worsened storms and sent sea levels rising. Human Rights Watch, in a recent report, said refugees and humanitarian workers alike fear that inadequate storm and flood protection could put those on the island at serious risk.
Nevertheless, the Bangladesh government has moved ahead with resettling Rohingya refugees there. They have built housing for more than 100,000 people, with a series of red-roofed dormitories checkering more than two square miles of the western side of the island.
The number of people trying to escape the island has become a growing problem. About 700 have tried to flee, according to the police, sometimes paying $150 per person to find rides on rickety boats. The police have arrested at least 200 people who attempted to leave.
The police cite safety concerns. In August, a boat carrying 42 people capsized, leaving 14 people dead and 13 missing.
“When we catch them, we send them back to the island,” said Abul Kalam Azad, a police officer in the port city of Chattogram on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh. “They say they are mostly upset for not having any job in Bhasan Char. They are eager to work and earn money.”
Some simply want to see their families again.
Last year, Jannat Ara left her hut in Cox’s Bazar for a dangerous sea journey to take a job in Malaysia that would provide food for eight members of her family. Her boat was intercepted by the Bangladesh navy. She was sent to Bhasan Char, where she lived with three other women.
Alone and desperate to leave, in May she seized the first chance she could get to escape. Her parents paid around $600 for the journey back to Cox’s Bazar, she said. She traveled for hours in pitch dark before arriving back at the camp.
“Only Allah knows how I lived there for a year,” Ms. Ara said. “It is a jail with red roof buildings and surrounded by the sea from all sides. I used to call my parents and cry every day.”
Human rights groups have questioned whether the refugees at Bhasan Char have enough access to food, water, schooling and health care. In an emergency, they say, the island also lacks an ability to evacuate residents.
“The fear is always there,” said Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee who arrived on the island in December. “We are surrounded by the sea.”
But the biggest worry, Mr. Mohammad said, is the education of his children.
“My elder son used to go to the community school when we were in Cox’s Bazar,” he said, “but he is about to forget everything he learned, as there is no option for him to study in Bhasan Char.”
The fear of being stuck on the vulnerable island without any means of getting out has led to protests against Bangladeshi authorities by the refugees. The protests began in May, when U.N. human rights investigators paid a visit. They continued in August after the boat incident, with protesters carrying signs criticizing the Bangladesh government and appealing to the U.N. to get sent back to Cox’s Bazar.
Mr. Islam, the Rohingya refugee who fled in August, was one of the protesters. But he was already thinking about getting out.
He lost three cousins during a killing spree carried out by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state in 2017. Once they arrived in Cox’s Bazar, he and his family built a hillside hut out of sticks and plastic tarpaulins and shared it with another family of three.
During hot summer nights, Mr. Islam said, he and the other man slept outside so that their children and wives could sleep comfortably inside.
The promise of an apartment on Bhasan Char held appeal. In January, while other families were forced to go there, he volunteered. They carried a few blankets and two bags of clothes.
He came to regret the decision. When he arrived back at Cox’s Bazar in August, he saw it with new eyes.
“I felt,” he said, “as if I was walking into my home.”
PANJSHIR, Afghanistan — In this lush strip of land — walled off from potential invaders by high mountain peaks and narrow, ambush-prone passes — former mujahedeen fighters and Afghan commandos regrouped in the days after the Taliban toppled the Afghan government, vowing to fight to the last man. With its history of resistance and its reputation for impenetrability, the Panjshir Valley seemed an ideal place for a determined force of renegades to base an insurgency.
By Sept. 6, however, the Taliban claimed to have captured the entire province of Panjshir, a momentous victory in a region that repelled numerous Soviet offensives in the 1980s, and had remained beyond the Taliban’s control during its rule from 1996 to 2001.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
He said that Qari Qudratullah, the new provincial governor, was meeting with elders to discuss a peaceful handover.
A Taliban military commission official, Mullah Hafiz Osman, later confirmed this was true, while Mr. Nazary, the resistance spokesman, denied the claim.
Behind the Panjshiri fighters flew the green, white and black flag of the Northern Alliance, repurposed to signify the National Resistance Front, which is led by Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shad Massoud, the leader assassinated in 2001. But villagers said that the Taliban had long been active in the valley, and that their takeover had been negotiated by some of the residents.
Outside the tomb of the elder Massoud, a young Talib, far from his home in Helmand Province in the south, performed his evening prayers.
Days earlier, photos of the partially destroyed tomb, in a dramatic hilltop mausoleum overlooking the valley, appeared on social media alongside accusations that the Taliban had ransacked the place. “This wasn’t our work,” one of the Taliban guards said. “Civilians broke in and smashed the glass.”
The site had since been repaired by the Taliban and was now in its original state. A group of guards stood around the tomb, and as evening fell, they stretched a green shroud over it and closed the doors for the night.
Outside the valley, those who had fled wondered if they would ever be able to return.
When the Taliban first entered Panjshir, Sahar, 17, and her family barricaded themselves at home, thinking the resistance would eventually chase the Talibs away. But the fighting steadily drew closer.
Neighbors started to flee, said Sahar, whose last name is being withheld to protect her identity. Her uncle and cousin were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint near the village, she said, where they were beaten and ordered to turn over their weapons and the names of resistance fighters.
Last week, the family escaped through the mountains. They walked for five days, through remote valleys and over mountain ridges. Sahar fainted three times from dehydration, she said, and her mother had blisters and swollen feet. Her father, who is diabetic, nearly collapsed.
Eventually, they hitched a ride to Kabul, the country’s capital, where they had relatives with whom they are now living.
“We don’t know what will happen,” Sahar said by phone from Kabul. “We may never be able to get back.”
Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York, N.Y. Wali Arian contributed from Istanbul, Turkey.
When Belgium said in March that it would repatriate some women who had joined the Islamic State, along with their children, Jessie Van Eetvelde welcomed the decision with relief — even though she knows it will likely mean time in prison.
She and her two children have been living for at least two years in detention camps in Syria. Her dream, she says, is to have her children, whose father fought for the Islamic State, attend school in Belgium. For that, she is ready to pay the price of having joined the militant group in 2014, if Belgium will take her back.
“Maybe they realized that those who want to go back are sorry and want a second chance,” Ms. Van Eetvelde, 43, said recently in a WhatsApp voice message.
Many European countries have balked at allowing the return of people linked to ISIS, yet some, like Belgium and Finland, are now heeding the advice of security experts and rights groups who say that repatriations are the safest option.
lost its last territorial foothold in Syria, more than 200 women from 11 European countries and their 650 children are living in two Syrian camps, Al Hol and Roj, according to figures compiled by Thomas Renard, a researcher at the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based think tank.
Although the Europeans represent a small fraction of the 60,000 people being held in the camps, who are mostly Iraqis and Syrians, European governments are facing increasing pressure to bring the adults back to face trial amid an argument that the countries’ inaction violates their commitment to human rights.
Security experts, rights groups and lawyers of those who went to ISIS territories acknowledge that European governments face legitimate security concerns, along with political dynamics in countries fearful of terrorist attacks. But a growing number of government and intelligence officials say that leaving European citizens in Syria comes with greater risks, including that they could join terrorist groups that target Europe.
Kazakhstan and Turkey have repatriated many of their own citizens to prosecute them and, in some cases, reintegrate them into society.
The Kurdish leadership in the region that oversees the camps has not prosecuted the women, whose roles under ISIS’s rule often remain unclear. And because the administration is not internationally recognized, any prosecutions would still not get them out of their legal limbo.
Most European countries say that they have no legal obligation to help their citizens in the camps and that adults who joined ISIS should be prosecuted in Iraq and Syria.
Save the Children.
Reprieve says that many women in the camps were trafficked, raped and forced into marriage and domestic servitude.
Yet in several European countries, repatriations remain out of the question, said a French intelligence official who requested anonymity to discuss the topic. Part of the hesitancy, security analysts say, is that repatriated women could receive light or no prison sentences.
Britain has stripped British citizenship from nearly 20 women who joined ISIS, in some cases taking them to court to prevent their return. France has turned down numerous calls for repatriation, even as some of the women staged a monthlong hunger strike. The Netherlands and Sweden said that they might take in children, but without their mothers.
France reels from years of terrorist attacks, the government has opposed calls to repatriate people who left to wage jihad.
Although France has taken in 35 children from the camps on a case-by-case basis, 100 women with French citizenship and their 200 children remain mostly in the Roj camp, according to Jean-Charles Brisard, the director of the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.
France was due to repatriate at least 160 of them in early 2019, according to intelligence documents brought to light by the newspaper Libération that spring and seen by The Times this year. But the situation in the camps became too volatile, the French intelligence official said, and the plan was abandoned.
asked the International Criminal Court to consider whether the country’s policy makes President Emmanuel Macron complicit in war crimes.
A French woman who went on hunger strike in the Roj camp said that there was no running water and that many people there had respiratory problems. (The Times is not publishing her name, because she says she has received death threats from ISIS supporters who oppose their return to France.) “It’s very difficult to see doctors and dentists — there are no medicines,” she said, adding that the Frenchwomen wanted to return “to be tried, to be jailed.”
Jussi Tanner, a diplomat from Finland who is in charge of his country’s repatriations, said the women and children’s return was not a matter of “if, but of when and how.”
“Repatriating them as quickly as we can is better from a security point of view rather than pretending that the problem goes away when we look away,” he said. “You can leave them there, but they will return anyway.”
Claire Moses, Christopher F. Schuetze and Jasmina Nielsen contributed reporting.
LONDON — Russia is increasingly pressuring Google, Twitter and Facebook to fall in line with Kremlin internet crackdown orders or risk restrictions inside the country, as more governments around the world challenge the companies’ principles on online freedom.
Russia’s internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, recently ramped up its demands for the Silicon Valley companies to remove online content that it deems illegal or restore pro-Kremlin material that had been blocked. The warnings have come at least weekly since services from Facebook, Twitter and Google were used as tools for anti-Kremlin protests in January. If the companies do not comply, the regulator has said, they face fines or access to their products may be throttled.
The latest clashes flared up this week, when Roskomnadzor told Google on Monday to block thousands of unspecified pieces of illegal content or it would slow access to the company’s services. On Tuesday, a Russian court fined Google 6 million rubles, or about $81,000, for not taking down another piece of content.
store all data on Russian users within the country by July 1 or face fines. In March, the authorities had made it harder for people to see and send posts on Twitter after the company did not take down content that the government considered illegal. Twitter has since removed roughly 6,000 posts to comply with the orders, according to Roskomnadzor. The regulator has threatened similar penalties against Facebook.
the police visited Twitter’s offices in New Delhi in a show of force. No employees were present, but India’s governing party has become increasingly upset with the perception that Twitter has sided with its critics during the coronavirus pandemic.
In Myanmar, Poland, Turkey and elsewhere, leaders are also tightening internet controls. In Belarus, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko this week signed a law banning livestreams from unauthorized protests.
“All of these policies will have the effect of creating a fractured internet, where people have different access to different content,” said Jillian York, an internet censorship expert with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in Berlin.
The struggle over online speech in Russia has important ramifications because the internet companies have been seen as shields from government censors. The latest actions are a major shift in the country, where the internet, unlike television, had largely remained open despite President Vladimir V. Putin’s tight grip on society.
“sovereign internet,” a legal and technical system to block access to certain websites and fence off parts of the Russian internet from the rest of the world.
an interview this week with Kommersant, a leading Russian newspaper, Andrey Lipov, the head of Roskomnadzor, said slowing down access to internet services was a way to force the companies to comply with Russian laws and takedown orders. Mr. Lipov said blocking their services altogether was not the goal.
Google declined to discuss the situation in Russia and said it received government requests from the around the world, which it discloses in its transparency reports.
Facebook also would not discuss Russia, but said it restricted content that violated local laws or its terms of service. “We always strive to preserve voice for the greatest number of people,” a spokeswoman said.
Twitter said in a statement that it took down content flagged by the Russian authorities that violated its policies or local laws.
protests in support of the opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny after his arrest in January. The demonstrations were the biggest shows of dissent against Mr. Putin in years.
“This mobilization was happening online,” Ms. Zlobina said.
The Russian government has portrayed the tech industry as part of a foreign campaign to meddle in domestic affairs. The authorities have accused the companies of blocking pro-Kremlin online accounts while boosting the opposition, and said the platforms were also havens for child pornography and drug sales.
Twitter became the first major test of Russia’s censorship technology in March when access to its service was slowed down, according to researchers at the University of Michigan.
To resolve the conflict, a Twitter executive met at least twice with Russian officials, according to the company and Roskomnadzor. The government, which had threatened to ban Twitter entirely, said the company had eventually complied with 91 percent of its takedown requests.
Other internet companies have also been affected. Last month, TikTok, the popular social media platform owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, was fined 2.6 million rubles, or about $35,000, for not removing posts seen as encouraging minors to participate in illegal demonstrations. TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.
The fines are small, but larger penalties loom. The Russian government can increase fines to as much as 10 percent of a company’s revenue for repeat offenses, and, perhaps more important, authorities can disrupt their services.
Perhaps the biggest target has been Google. YouTube has been a key outlet for government critics such as Mr. Navalny to share information and organize. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Google has employees in Russia. (The company would not say how many.)
In addition to this week’s warning, Russia has demanded that Google lift restrictions that limit the availability of some content from state media outlets like Sputnik and Russia Today outside Russia.
Russia’s antitrust regulator is also investigating Google over YouTube’s policies for blocking videos.
Google is trying to use the courts to fight some actions by the Russian government. Last month, it sued Roskomnadzor to fight an order to remove 12 YouTube videos related to opposition protests. In another case, the company appealed a ruling ordering YouTube to reinstate videos from Tsargrad, a nationalist online TV channel, which Google had taken down over what it said were violations of American sanctions.
Joanna Szymanska, a senior program officer for Article 19, an internet freedom group, said Google’s recent lawsuit to fight the YouTube takedown orders would influence what other countries did in the future, even if the company was likely to lose in court. Ms. Szymanska, who is based in Poland, called on the tech companies to be more transparent about what content they were being asked to delete, and what orders they were complying with.
“The Russian example will be used elsewhere if it works well,” she said.
Adam Satariano reported from London and Oleg Matsnev from Moscow. Anton Troianovski contributed reporting from Moscow.