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Dozens of ethnic Kazakhs from China have been picketing the Chinese Consulate in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, for more than a month over relatives being held in Xinjiang.

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry says it has asked Chinese authorities to "help resolve issues" raised by ethnic Kazakhs in China, who have been demanding their relatives' release from custody in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.

Mukhtar Karibai told reporters in Nur-Sultan on March 12 that the decision "to ask China for help" was made after it became obvious that dozens of ethnic Kazakhs from China, who have been picketing the Chinese Consulate in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, for more than a month "have not been following sanitary regulations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus."

"We have asked the Chinese side to meet with those people and make certain decisions regarding their complaints so that [the protesters] stop gathering [in front of the Chinese consulate] every day," Karibai said.

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Karibai confirmed that some naturalized Kazakh citizens and ethnic-Kazakh Chinese citizens, whose relatives reside in Kazakhstan, have not been able to leave Xinjiang to come to Kazakhstan for some time, adding though that "more than 90 percent of such people have returned to Kazakhstan" by now.

"We are sticking to the international norm, according to which, one country cannot interfere in the internal affairs of another country...But because there is another norm which does not allow the separation of close relatives, we are trying to do what we can to resolve the issue," Karibai said.

"At this point there are 5 to 6 ethnic Kazakhs stuck in Xinjiang who are not able to join their families [in Kazakhstan]. All of them are Chinese citizens. Some media reports say they broke the law in China, and that is why very likely they are being kept in custody there. It might take longer time to solve their issues," Karibai added.

When asked by an RFE/RL correspondent about reports saying that the number of ethnic Kazakhs held in custody in Xinjiang is much higher, Karibai said he could not comment on "unofficial information."

Karibai's statement came one day after the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan posted an interview on Facebook with Sairagul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh from Xinjiang, who was one of the first individuals to speak publicly about so-called reeducation camps for Xinjiang's indigenous, mostly Muslim ethnic groups.

Sauytbay, who fled China in April 2018 and is currently living in Sweden, repeated that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang were undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of "reeducation camps," facing "torture and humiliation" there.

On March 10, U.S. Embassy officials met with other ethnic Kazakhs who fled Xinjiang and are currently in Kazakhstan, and discussed their ordeals in China.

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.

China denies that the facilities are internment camps.

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, is the second-largest community in Xinjiang.

Uzbek blogger Otabek Sattoriy in court on March 11

TASHKENT -- Uzbek blogger Otabek Sattoriy has pleaded not guilty to all charges at a preliminary hearing in a high-profile extortion and slander case that sparked harsh criticism of Uzbek authorities by domestic and international human rights groups earlier this year.

After Sattoriy, investigators, and witnesses gave statements on March 11, the Muzrabot district court in the southern Surxondaryo region set March 17 as the trial's start date.

Before entering the courtroom, Sattoriy told journalists that his case was fabricated in a country known for its poor treatment of a free press.

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"I reject all the charges. The whole case has been fabricated, based on lies. I did not take any money from anyone. Because I have always raised the problems faced by ordinary people, the case has become high-profile," Sattoriy said.

The 40-year-old blogger was charged with extortion, slander, and insult, which his supporters and rights defenders have characterized as retaliation by the authorities for his critical reporting.

Sattoriy is known to be a harsh critic of the regional governor, Tora Bobolov. In one of his latest posts in his Halq Fikiri (People's Opinion) video blog, Sattoriy openly accused the local government of launching fabricated criminal cases against bloggers and vowed to continue to raise the issue of corruption among officials despite the "crackdown."

Since his arrest in late January, Sattoriy has been tried in a separate case and was found guilty of defamation and distributing false information. According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, the blogger was ordered to pay a fine for the offenses.

The Prosecutor-General's Office also rejected criticism by human rights organizations, saying that Sattoriy’s arrest was lawful.

Uzbekistan is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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