ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- An activist in Kazakhstan has been jailed after staging a one-man protest outside the Chinese consulate in Almaty over recent statements on Chinese-Kazakh military cooperation made by Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xiao.
A court in Almaty late on August 3 found Serik Azhibai guilty on charges of staging an unapproved public event and disobeying police orders. He was sentenced to 15 days in jail.
Azhibai pleaded not guilty, arguing that Kazakh laws allow an individual to hold a single-person protest without first obtaining permission from authorities. Azihibai also told the court that he has a right to express his opinion freely.
Azhibai was detained earlier on August 3 in front of the Chinese consulate. He was holding a protest sign reading: "Ambassadors bring reconciliation, enemies bring discord! Get out of the country!"
Before his arrest, Azhibai said he was protesting remarks by Ambassador Zhang in an interview with Chinese media last week.
According to Azhibai, who is fluent in Chinese, the ambassador had said that China and Kazakhstan would send troops to each other's territory to quash possible riots if need be.
"We are not a Chinese autonomous region,” Azhibai said. “We are a sovereign state, an independent nation.”
“Neither China nor any other state have a right to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries," Azhibai said.
Azhibai was one of many Kazakhs who have picketed outside the Chinese consulate in Almaty for many months.
They have been demanding the release of their relatives and other ethnic Kazakhs being held in internment camps in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.
In his interview last week, Ambassador Zhang said the Chinese and Kazakh armed forces "are decisively cracking down on the three evils" -- an expression used by Chinese media to refer to terrorism, extremism, and separatism.
Zhang also said in the interview that the two neighboring countries oppose "color revolutions" in the region.
Anti-China protests in Kazakh towns and cities have become frequent in recent years as Kazakh citizens challenge China's growing economic presence in the country.
Activists also have been denouncing the widespread incarceration of members of indigenous Turkic-speaking communities in China’s Xinjiang region, including ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs.
In April, Kazakhstan’s government sent a note of protest to Beijing over an article on a Chinese website claiming that Kazakhstan was seeking to become part of China.
In August 2018, the United Nations said an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and members of other indigenous ethnic groups in Xinjiang were being held in "counterextremism centers."
The UN said millions more had been forced into so-called “reeducation camps.”
China denies that the facilities are internment camps. But people who have fled the region say thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang are undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of 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 ethnic group, is the second-largest community in Xinjiang.
The United States has imposed sanctions on Xinjiang's current and former officials over the ongoing abuse of rights of the region's indigenous ethnic groups.