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Kabul's Largest Currency Exchange Market Reopens; Afghan Uyghurs Fear Deportation Back to China; Cuban Doctors Criticize Government's COVID-19 Response; Paralympics Closing Ceremony Just Hours Away; Beijing Tells Broadcasters to Promote Chinese Values. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired September 05, 2021 - 00:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi, welcome to viewers around the world and thank you for joining me this hour. Live in Atlanta, you are watching CNN. Just ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): China is trying to capture and send back, all of the Uyghurs from abroad. Uyghurs are facing genocide. If I go back to China, the Chinese will torture and kill me.

CURNOW (voice-over): Uyghurs, in Afghanistan, with few options. Wanted by the Chinese government but also, terrified of the Taliban.



CURNOW (voice-over): And, once praised for being heroes, Cuban doctors at the front lines of the COVID crisis are speaking out.


CURNOW (voice-over): And then later, why China is cracking down on celebrities.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: We begin in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters are trying to seize the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul. The rugged district is home to anti-Taliban forces and is the only territory not under Taliban control.

Now fresh fighting was reported on Saturday, with both sides claiming successes. CNN cannot independently verify the accuracy of those reports.

But in the capital, where ordinary Afghans have been starved for cash, the largest currency exchange market, reopening on Saturday, for the first time in nearly 3 weeks. Most banks, however, remained closed or are limiting withdrawals.

Now the Taliban takeover has alarmed many Afghans who fear the group harsh Islamic policies. Among them, Uyghurs, who relocated to Afghanistan, from China, many years ago. Some, now, are terrified that the Taliban will deport them back to China. Ivan Watson, has a report.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During the final frantic days of the evacuation from Kabul airport, a woman films desperate families, waiting under the sun for a seat on a plane out of Afghanistan.

"Look at these poor people," she says. "This is a difficult, sad situation, very painful."

She is speaking a language that is foreign to Afghanistan, Uyghur. She is a member of the ethnic Uyghur minority from neighboring China, who moved to Afghanistan more than a decade ago after marrying an Afghan.

On August 25th, the woman's family made it onto this military flight to Italy, where she speaks to CNN from quarantine on condition we don't identify her. She fears the Taliban could hurt her in-laws still in Afghanistan and that the Chinese government could target her other relatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Right now China is trying to capture and send back, all of the Uyghurs from abroad. Uyghurs are facing genocide. If I go back to China, the Chinese will torture and kill me.

WATSON (voice-over): Uyghur exiles from China are among the many communities in Afghanistan terrified by the Taliban takeover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a representative of Uyghurs in Afghan.

WATSON (voice-over): Abdul Aziz Naseri was born in Afghanistan after parents fled China's cultural revolution in 1976.

WATSON: What scenario are you worried about?

ABDUL AZIZ NASERI, AFGHAN UYGHUR: There is a lot of the families in Afghanistan, Uyghur families living in Afghanistan, and they are afraid from China because the Taliban was dealing with China behind the door. And they are afraid to send them back to China.

WATSON (voice-over): Since 2016, China allegedly detained up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslims in internment camps as part of what it calls a campaign against Islamic extremism in Xinjiang. Yet Beijing has been courting the Taliban. China's top diplomat held talks with a Taliban delegation in late July. And this week a Taliban spokesman called for closer ties with Beijing.

ZABIULLAH MUJAHID, TALIBAN SPOKESPERSON (through translator): We look forward to building a very strong relationship with China because it is a rapidly developing country which can support Afghanistan.

WATSON (voice-over): CNN obtained testimony of more than a dozen Uyghurs, detailing alleged detention and deportation from other Middle Eastern countries back to China.

Asked about this recent report, which alleges the forced repatriation of over 851 Uyghurs from 23 countries, from 1997 and 2016, China's foreign ministry told CNN the report was published by an "anti-China separatist organization and not worth a response."


WATSON (voice-over): That is cold comfort for this Uyghur family in northern Afghanistan, who don't want to be identified.

"We face oppression here in Afghanistan," says this Uyghur woman. "And we're afraid to go back after hearing about the oppression in our homeland."

Uyghur exiles caught between a rock and a hard place, like millions of others in Afghanistan, now facing a very uncertain future -- Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


CURNOW: Ivan, thank you for that report.

While the world waits for the Taliban to announce how it plans to govern women, activists, again marched in Kabul, to demand equal rights under the new regime. Take a look at this.


CURNOW (voice-over): This demonstration was noisy but peaceful and very brave indeed, until they tried to march to the presidential palace. That is when Taliban militants, repeatedly turned hostile, accosting some of the women. One protester, describing what happened.

SORAYA, AFGHAN WOMEN'S RIGHTS PROTESTER (through translator): Together with a group of our colleagues, we wanted to go near the former government offices for a protest.

But before we got there, the Taliban hit women with electric Tasers and they used tear gas against women. They also hit women on the head with a gun magazine and the women became bloody. There was no one to ask why.


CURNOW: Afghan women are risking their lives, of course, to make their country a safer place. Some of, them also, are part of a U.N. team, clearing land mines and explosives, that the Taliban themselves planted in decades of war.

But now, the women may not be allowed to do that job under Taliban rule. CNN's Max Foster, now reporting, as the head of the U.N. land mine team is now stuck negotiating for his team's safety from continents away. Max?


MAX FOSTER, CNN LONDON CORRESPONDENT: High up in the English Yorkshire moors, famous for being used as a set for the Harry Potter movies, Paul Heslop whiles away the days, negotiating with the Taliban.

He left Kabul, shortly before the country was taken over. And he's trying to find a way back in, to continue his work, running the U.N. mine clearance program.

PAUL HESLOP, U.N. MINE CLEARANCE PROGRAM: The country, is absolutely littered in explosive remnants of war. There are the IEDs that they laid, to try to disrupt government and military operations.

And then there is just the normal detritus from conflict -- the grenades, the rockets, the shells that are being used, plus what was dropped on them.

FOSTER (voice-over): The irony is, the Taliban is now asking for help in clearing the IEDs that they laid in the first place.

HESLOP: I'm expecting to have a call with a Taliban representative in the next few days, to discuss how we can start. At the moment, about 40 percent of the demining teams in Afghanistan are working. We would like, by the end of September, to have that back up to 80 percent or 90 percent.

FOSTER (voice-over): One of those teams is female and Heslop is taking advice on whether there might be a compromise, to allow them to keep working. Perhaps, if they were accompanied.

HESLOP: One of the things we are reaching out to, us some of the academic scholars and theologians, who understand the Taliban's interpretation of the Quran and what's sharia law means to them and how that affects women.

And seeing, are there any interpretations that would allow your husband-wife team, your father-daughter, a brother-sister team, to work together, to be able to do that?

FOSTER (voice-over): If Heslop can find a way to get back into Kabul and especially if he can retain female staff, it could be a useful test case for other employers, hoping to operate there -- Max Foster, CNN, North Yorkshire, England.


CURNOW: Court documents, made public hours ago in New Zealand, have named the man responsible for Friday's terror attack.

Ahamed Samsudeen, a Sri Lankan national, was shot and killed by police after he went on a stabbing rampage at a supermarket in an Auckland suburb. He wounded 7 people and we know 4 are still in hospital; 3 of them, in a critical but stable condition. In the wake of the attack, the prime minister Jacinda Ardern promised

to toughen the country's terror law.

You're watching CNN, so still ahead, as COVID-19 cases soar in Cuba, the health care system is facing critical shortages. Now some doctors are taking an unprecedented step to speak out about the crisis.





CURNOW: Cuba's public health system is pushed to the brink, amid a surge of new COVID cases, fueled by the Delta variant. The country averages 6,500 new cases, per day, as you can see from this graph.

That is almost 6 times the numbers of new cases, from just 3 months ago. Hospitals have started running low on beds, doctors are already grappling with shortages of medicine, oxygen and other critical supplies.

Now some doctors, taking an unprecedented step, using social media to criticize the Cuban government's handling of the pandemic. Patrick Oppmann, reporting, from Havana.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During the first months of the pandemic, Cuban health care received applause, every night. Cuba's government calls the doctors and nurses heroes in white coats, sending them to work in countries, around the world, to earn the hard currency the Communist run island desperately needs.

But as Cuba's socialist health care system faces shortages of medicine and hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID, tensions have emerged between the government and the doctors and nurse they usually praise.

During to a province hard-hit by COVID-19 in August, Cuba's prime minister said that health care workers there had committed errors and were undisciplined.

"There are complaints about lack of medicine," he said, "but they are less than the complaints of mistreatment, of neglect, where the doctors don't make visits. That is incredible."

The backlash, across the island from some Cuban health care workers, was swift and unprecedented.

"We are demanding the minimum conditions to offer decent care to our patients and health care workers," this doctor said. More than 3 dozen doctors and nurses, have posted videos to social media, saying that the government's pandemic response is failing. "We want to keep working, we want to keep saving lives," says this

doctor. "We are not responsible for the sanitary collapse in our country."

The Cuban government says, the doctors are being used for, quote, "new enemy campaigns" but has recognized that the health care system is at its limits.

OPPMANN: For much of the pandemic, Cuba seemed to have the spread of the coronavirus under control but then, in late 2020, the island reopened borders, without first requiring travelers to have a PCR test before arrival. Now with the Delta variant, the number of cases and deaths are skyrocketing.

OPPMANN (voice-over): Cuba turned down offers from other countries, to send vaccines. Instead, developing their own.

"We trust, 100 percent, in our vaccine candidates," she says. "The numbers of cases that we have today, in a few months, our vaccine candidates will show they are effective and the situation will improve."

So far, more than 30 percent of the island is completely vaccinated, according to the health ministry. The government predicts they will vaccinate every Cuban by the end of the year. Despite the massive effort, cases and deaths remain at an all-time high.


OPPMANN (voice-over): For the rebellious Cuban health care workers, who have spoken out against their government's handling of the pandemic, even if the vaccines succeed, it is already too late -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


CURNOW: New Zealand is reporting its first COVID death in 6 months. The health ministry says a woman in her 90s who had underlying health conditions died in the hospital Friday night. Another person from her household has tested positive.

The country also reported 20 new cases Saturday, the lowest number in two weeks.

And Nicaragua has announced the list of 6 candidates to run in the country's presidential election. The process has been mired in controversy since Daniel Ortega's government has cracked down and even jailed some opposition leaders ahead of the election. Here's Rafael Romo.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): This is how the government of Nicaragua treats working journalists.

And this is how it treats those who dare to defy the government of president Daniel Ortega.

Starting in June, the regime has been cracking down on critics and the opposition, including Cristiana Chamorro, the only potential presidential candidate with a real chance of defeating Ortega in the November elections.

According to opposition leaders and human rights groups, the regime has since put behind bars more than 140 protesters, outspoken critics of the government and members of the opposition, including seven presidential candidates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): And even those who at one point were his political allies and comrades in arms. The government has accused some of those detained of using money from abroad to carry out activities to try to destabilize the country or other vague national security violations.

KITTY MONTERREY, NICARAGUAN OPPOSITION LEADER: There was no point in remaining there. I only had two options. Either they would take me to jail or they could deport me. I didn't know which of the two.

ROMO (voice-over): Others like Kitty Monterrey, who led an opposition party, have sought political asylum in neighboring Costa Rica and other countries, including the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): The Nicaraguan supreme electoral council released Wednesday the list of six candidates, including Ortega, that can legally run for the presidency. Analysts say the other five are collaborators, who are aligned with the president, even if they have their own political parties.

Monterrey says, although there are six presidential candidates, the November election is a foregone conclusion.

MONTERREY: It's going to be another farce, the same as in 2016. I'm not even going to say it's going to be a fraud. It's just -- it's a farce. There's nothing there. I mean, the political party that are competing, let's say, with Ortega, they're all his allies. There's no opposition, legal opposition remaining in Nicaragua.

ROMO (voice-over): Daniel Ortega is seeking a fourth consecutive term. The 75-year-old former revolutionary leader has governed the Central American country since 2007 and previously ruled the nation between 1979 and 1990, the last five years as an elected president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): Journalist Julio Lopez (ph) is among those who have decided to seek asylum in Costa Rica. He says he fled Nicaragua after his passport was confiscated and the government accused him of being involved in a corruption case, charges that he says were an effort to silence him. "Regrettably," he says, "the situation in the country has become so

extreme that there's no respect at all for freedom of the press in Nicaragua."

Costa Rican immigration authorities say the number of Nicaraguan nationals requesting asylum tripled from almost 1,500 in May to nearly 4,400 in July. According to Monterrey, this is a direct result of the Ortega government's repressive policies.

MONTERREY: Definitely. It's been a dictatorship since the very first day. It's just that, unfortunately, many people didn't know or didn't want to know. Now everybody understands that he is a dictator.

ROMO: If Ortega prevails in the November elections, by the end of his next term, he will have been running the country for 31 years altogether.

Together with the fact that he's managed to get a tight grip on all government institutions and that he will be virtually running unopposed, it is very likely that he will remain in power -- Rafael Romo, CNN, Mexico City.


CURNOW: And coming up on CNN, the Paralympics are coming to a close in Tokyo. Dozens of world records were broken and China actually dominated the competition. We look back at the last two weeks of events.





CURNOW: Welcome back I'm Robyn Curnow; it's 21 minutes past the hour.

The closing ceremony for the Paralympics is just hours away. Athletes from around the world competed in Tokyo and broke dozens of records. China is dominating the medal count with 95 golds and 206 total medals.

Now despite the pandemic, Paralympians brought hope and inspiration to a country that is seeing rises in COVID cases. A U.S. veteran who lost his sight in the Afghanistan War, also entered the record books at the Paralympics.

Brad Snyder is the first American man, Olympic or Paralympic, to win gold in the triathlon. Selina Wang sat down with him to talk about his experience in Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You were in the elite bomb disposal unit for the Navy in Iraq and Afghanistan for seven years.

What exactly happened in Afghanistan?

LT. BRAD SNYDER, U.S. NAVY (RET.), PARALYMPIAN: On the morning of September 7th, 2011, we were walking through a set of grape fields and we stumbled across, unfortunately, a mine field. I stepped on a secondary improvised explosive device that was located about a meter from the first blast site.

Thankfully, I was alone when I got hurt, so it only affected me. And thankfully it detonated a short distance in front of me as opposed to underneath me, which largely saved my life, saved my limbs but, unfortunately, I lost my vision as a result.

WANG: During your service in Afghanistan you were involved on suspected raids on Taliban locations.

What is your reaction, your emotion to what's happening in Afghanistan right now, the deadly Kabul attacks that powered -- that the Taliban is taking over, the desperation of people trying to get out?

SNYDER: It's prevailing sadness. I think, having been on the ground in Afghanistan, you can very clearly see, you know, the negativity associated with Taliban rule, the way that women are treated, the way that the villages react to the notion of the Taliban.

That said, we can't be there forever and, unless we're going to fully commit in a way that we haven't done over the last 20 years, the mistakes of the last 20 years don't justify future investment, in my view. And so I applaud the decisions that have been made to change course and to change our strategy in Afghanistan.

WANG: How do you look at the sacrifices that you and so many other U.S. service people have made?

SNYDER: My sacrifice wasn't necessarily on behalf of Afghanistan. My sacrifice was on behalf of the notion of liberty, the notion of free and democratic society, the notion of human rights. And that sacrifice, that fight is still alive. That fight is something we'll be fighting until long after I'm gone.

WANG: How painful, how triggering is it to hear about all of the ways in which this is unfolding?

SNYDER: I think it's triggering so far as you let it be triggering. That's one of the reasons I really like the Paralympic movement.

For me, coming off of the battlefield, the Paralympic movement offered me a way to re-identify myself. I used to be a Navy special operator. I used to have a really niche set of skills. I had a population of people who needed me to do this really crazy and difficult thing.

And then I was no longer needed to do that sort of thing. So my identity was kind of fractured and mitigated. I needed to rebuild that identity. I think that's a process we all need to start to go through. For our veteran population, maybe look away from Afghanistan for a

moment. Look away from Iraq for a moment. Look away from the war on terror for a moment and focus on something other than that.


CURNOW: Selina Wang, great interview, thank you, Selina.


CURNOW: China is telling broadcasters and online media companies to make sure the people they show reflect the values of the Communist Party. The move bans programs that idolize celebrities and even regulates the appearance of performers. Here are the details from Will Ripley.



WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her face lighting up screens in China for decades. Zhou Wei, also known as Vicky Zhou, one of China's highest paid household names.

At least she was. Government censors scrubbing Xiao from most of Mainland China's internet, yanking her movies and TV shows from streaming platforms without even giving a reason.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't matter how big you are in China. You can be a very big celebrity. But the government is not afraid. No one is above the law basically. I think that is the signal here.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Xiao's agent did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

Xiao's name on a list of misbehaving celebrities, circulating on Chinese social media. The list includes Fan Bingbing, arguably China's most famous and reportedly highest paid actress, fined nearly $130 million in 2018 for tax evasion.

The same charge levied last week against another canceled actress, Zheng Shuang, slapped with a $46 million fine. She did reportedly make 24 million bucks for a recent romantic drama in a nation where hundreds of millions barely make $140 a month.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can't get too high. You can't get too famous and you can't get too wealthy.

RIPLEY (voice-over): President Xi Jinping is pledging to redistribute wealth, a policy believed to be popular among many Chinese young people. The nation's top internet regulator also targeting celebrity fan clubs, state media comparing them to cults, susceptible to the influence of hostile foreign forces.

Authorities announced measures to clean up chaos caused by fan obsession and cut off the capital chain behind the phenomenon. The cyberspace administration of China promising to protect online political security and ideological security.

The Beijing leadership calling on celebrities to promote patriotism, morality and, above all, the Communist Party's ideology.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to stay clean and wholesome. Make sure you're friends with the right people and paying your taxes and it's a very narrowly defined, what's good and what's not appropriate by Beijing.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Those who don't comply, experts say, risk being blacklisted in the blink of an eye -- Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.


CURNOW: I'm Robyn Curnow, thanks so much for watching. We'll be back in 90 minutes time with more news but I'm going to hand you over to "TOMORROW TRANSFORMED."