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Kazakh rights activist Serikzhan Bilash (file photo)

A naturalized Kazakh citizen from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang says his activities as a self-exiled activist in Turkey helped five ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizens obtain refugee status in Kazakhstan in 2020.

Serikzhan Bilash and his family moved from Kazakhstan to Turkey in September after he faced controversial charges of inciting ethnic hatred.

In an interview with RFE/RL published on January 6, Bilash said Kazakh authorities have been reluctant to give refugee status to ethnic Kazakhs who've fled Xinjiang to avoid incarceration in China's so-called reeducation camps for Muslim indigenous ethnic groups.

Bilash said that, after moving to Turkey, he met with Turkish rights activists about the cases of ethnic Kazakhs who've fled to Kazakhstan from China.

With their assistance, Bilash said Turkish authorities were asked to to give Turkish citizenship to five ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang -- Qaisha Aqan, Qaster Musakhanuly, Murager Alimuly, Baghashar Malikuly, and Tilek Tabarikuly.

All five were tried in Kazakhstan on charges of illegally crossing the border into Kazakhstan.

Bilash claims the effort in Turkey contributed to a decision by Kazakh authorities to provide the five with a one-year refugee status in Kazakhstan.

"After we publicly announced we were seeking Turkish citizenship for the five Kazakhs from Xinjiang, some people from Kazakhstan met with us in 2020 and asked us to withdraw the move, saying that Kazakhstan would soon solve the issue," Bilash said.

Shortly after that, Bilash told RFE/RL, the five received temporary refugee status in Kazakhstan.

2019 Arrest

Bilash himself was arrested in Kazakhstan in 2019 and charged with inciting ethnic hatred after he'd campaigned for the release of ethnic Kazakhs from the detention centers in China.

He was held in pretrial detention and under house arrest for five months.

Bilash led the Atazhurt Eriktileri (Volunteers of the Fatherland) group. The group staged a series of demonstrations during 2018 and 2019 that brought together ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang who've resettled in Kazakhstan.

The group has asked for help from Kazakh authorities to secure the release of relatives and friends held at the notorious camps in Xinjiang.

Bilash was also fined about $300 by Kazakh authorities in August 2019.

In November, the United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the Kazakh government violated international human rights law when it detained Bilash.

The U.S. State Department has said that as many as 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of Xinjiang's other indigenous, mostly Muslim, ethnic groups have been taken to detention centers in China.

Beijing says that the facilities are "vocational education centers" aimed at helping people steer clear of terrorism and allowing them to be reintegrated into society.

Kazakhs are the second-largest Turkic-speaking indigenous community in Xinjiang after Uyghurs.

The region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans. Han, China's largest ethnicity, are the second-largest community in Xinjiang.

Maryya Kalesnikava is a key member of an opposition council in Belarus. (file photo)

MINSK -- Belarusian authorities have prolonged the pretrial detention of Maryya Kalesnikava, an opposition figure who is facing national-security charges, for two months.

The Coordination Council of the Belarusian political opposition said on January 6 that investigators had extended Kalesnikava's detention until March 8.

Kalesnikava is a key member of the Coordination Council, a body set up by Belarus's political opposition to facilitate a transfer of power in the country following a presidential election in August that the opposition says was rigged and the West has refused to accept.

Kalesnikava was arrested in September and charged with calling for actions aimed at damaging the country's national security via media and the Internet.

Kalesnikava, who rejects the charge as politically motivated, could be sentenced to up to five years in prison if convicted.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusians take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and call for new elections after official results from the August 9 presidential poll gave Lukashenka a landslide victory.

Mass demonstrations have swept across Belarus since the disputed August 9 vote that gave Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth consecutive term.

Lukashenka has directed a brutal postelection crackdown in which almost 30,000 have been detained, and hundreds beaten in detention and on the streets.

The EU and the United States refuse to recognize Lukashenka as the country’s legitimate leader and have slapped sanctions on him and other senior Belarusian officials.

The vote was widely dismissed as having been rigged, with the real winner being opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left the country for Lithuania shortly after the election due to security concerns.

With reporting by BelaPAN

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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