An ethnic Kazakh citizen of China, who has been stuck in the airport in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, has urged Uzbek authorities to deny a Chinese extradition request for him.
Businessman Halemubieke Xiaheman (aka Ghalymbek Shaghyman), urged Uzbek President Shavkat Mirzioyev as "a brotherly Turkic-speaking Muslim man" not to extradite him to China, where he said he could face death.
Xiaheman made the remarks in a February 7 video uploaded on Facebook and apparently recorded inside Tashkent’s international airport.
The video, as well as photos of Xiaheman's travel documents, was distributed by a group of activists based in Kazakhstan who said they were seeking to prevent Xiaheman's extradition to China.
Chinese and Uzbek authorities did not confirm that China had made an extradition request, or on what grounds.
Beijing has faced an outcry from international rights organizations, Western governments, and the United Nations over what they say are mass detentions and strict surveillance of the large, mostly Muslim Uyghur population and other Muslim groups, including ethnic Kazakhs, who live in the Xinjiang region in northwest China.
Some Chinese Uyghurs and Kazakhs have sought refuge in Central Asian nations, with which they share ethnic, linguistic, and religious ties.
But Central Asian governments do not want to be seen as harboring Chinese dissidents for fear of angering Beijing, a major trading partner for the former Soviet republics.
'Down A Dark Hole'
Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said returning Xiaheman to China would be "tantamount to shoving him down a dark hole."
"Uzbekistan has a legal obligation under international law not to send a person to any country where he or she could face torture or the death penalty, even if that person is technically in a 'transit zone' of the airport," Swerdlow said.
In the video uploaded on February 7, Xiaheman said he would be persecuted or even killed if he returned to China, where he said he had faced unspecified pressure from authorities.
In another video Xiaheman, who has a Chinese wife, urged the U.S., German, Japanese, British, and Canadian authorities to prevent him from being extradited.
Other posts on Facebook apparently show Xiaheman's Chinese passport, which says the 41-year-old man was born in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang and obtained his passport in the southern province of Guangdong in September last year.
Passport stamps showed Xiaheman arrived in Tashkent from Thailand.
In another video uploaded on Facebook, Xiaheman said that officials from the Chinese Embassy in Tashkent were trying to lure him out of the airport, but he had refused to leave.
The UN said in August that an estimated 1 million Muslims from Xinjiang were being held in "counterextremism centers."
The UN also said millions more had been forced into reeducation camps.
China denies that the facilities are internment camps.
In August, a court in the Kazakh city of 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 in an Almaty court that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang were undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of "reeducation camps."
She testified 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.
Kazakhs are the second-largest Turkic-speaking indigenous community in Xinjiang after Uyghurs, and 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.