06/27/2022, 10.01
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Almaty: 500th day of protest for Kazakhs detained in Xinjiang

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Demonstration in front of the Chinese consulate. Like the Uyghurs, the Kazakh minority is also sent to lagers in the Chinese autonomous region. The Kazakh government does not intervene so as not to spoil relations with Beijing.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - To reiterate after 500 days of public actions their desire to see their loved ones again, relatives of Kazakhs detained in Xinjiang's "re-education camps" gathered in Almaty in front of China's consulate. As they have done during this long period of protests, they showed up holding photographs of relatives remaining on Chinese soil, juxtaposed with a photograph of Xi Jinping and the flag of Kazakhstan, chanting the slogans, "Head of China, free our relatives!", "Close the political lagers!" and "Freedom to innocent detainees!"

One of the participants, Akikat Khaliola, recounted that his father died in a Chinese prison, while his mother and two little brothers have disappeared without being heard from again. He appealed to Kazakhstan's President Kasym-Žomart Tokaev, reiterating that his father was killed in prison only because he "demanded justice." Another protester, Gaukhar Kurmanalieva, asks why Kazakhstan does not intercede for its citizen Askar Azatbek, who is being held without even being charged with any crime at the border with China.

An official of the akimat (municipality) in Almaty, Rita Erman, met with the demonstrators in front of the consulate, warning them of the possible administrative liability they face for the "illegal" gathering and asking them to return to their homes. After similar actions over the past 500 days, authorities have fined members of the group several times, and the Chinese consulate has never deigned to receive them, or give them a response in any form.

Azattyk's editorial staff supported the relatives of the Xinjiang detainees by sending a formal request for clarification to Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry, which was answered that the "illegal actions" in front of the consulate "constitute an obstacle" to diplomats' patient work to resolve the issue, as they "negatively affect bilateral relations with China."

Reports of crackdowns on the Turkic-speaking and Muslim population in Xinjiang have been going on since 2017, with the hardest hit ethnic groups being Uyghurs and Kazakhs, sent to "political re-education camps" after their passports were confiscated, or forced under house arrest. Many have fled China and others have tried to do so, often being detained before crossing the border. There are also minorities of Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Dungans in the region.

Many international organizations and Western countries have accused Beijing of "genocide" against the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic-speaking peoples of Xinjiang, but Chinese authorities have consistently denied any responsibility. Protest actions in front of the consulate in Almaty began in February 2021, and have led to many arrests and punishments of various kinds, without ever giving answers about the "trumped-up charges" that force relatives into detention and separation from family members. In recent months, there has been some outflow from Xinjiang of ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizens, who mostly settled in Almaty.

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