ZHARKENT, Kazakhstan -- An ethnic Kazakh woman from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang who is on trial for illegally crossing the border has pleaded with a court in Kazakhstan to allow her to stay in the country to avoid persecution at home.
Qaisha Aqan testified at her trial in Kazakhstan’s southeastern town of Zharkent on November 12 that she had to cross illegally into Kazakhstan in May 2018 because local authorities in Xinjiang threatened to place her in an internment camp for Muslims.
"I came to Kazakhstan seeking asylum. I ask you not to send me back to China. I will be the subject of persecution there," the 36-year-old said, adding that her 70-year-old mother, her ex-husband and their son remain in Xinjiang.
Aqan also said that she received asylum-seeker status from Kazakhstan's migration authorities a day earlier.
Last month, two ethnic Kazakh men who are currently in pretrial detention for illegally crossing the Chinese-Kazakh border were granted asylum-seeker status as well.
Before their arrest last month, the two, Murager Alimuly and Qaster Musakhanuly, held a news conference in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, where they told reporters that Alimuly was subjected to persecution in Xinjiang while Musakhanuly had spent several years in a so-called "reeducation camp" in the region.
In August last year, the United Nations said an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and members of other mostly Muslim indigenous ethnic groups in Xinjiang were being held in "counterextremism centers."
The UN said millions more had been forced into reeducation camps. China denies that the facilities are internment camps.
In August 2018, a court in Almaty refused to extradite Sairagul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen who was wanted in China for illegal border crossing.
Sauytbay fled China in April and testified that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang were undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of "reeducation camps."
She added that Chinese authorities had forced her to train "political-ideology" instructors for reeducation camps, giving her access to secret documents about what she called a state program to "reeducate" Muslims from indigenous ethnic communities.
Although she was not extradited to China, Kazakh authorities did not allow Sauytbay to stay in Kazakhstan. She eventually was granted asylum in Sweden.
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.