ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A Kazakh woman demonstrating in front of the Chinese consulate in Almaty has been warned her protest demanding the release of her husband from house arrest in China's northwestern province of Xinjiang is illegal.
Farida Qabylbek picketed the consulate on January 14 with large posters hanging on her body with her husband's photo and information about his ordeal. An official from Almaty's city administration, Rita Ermanova, was at the site and told Qabylbek that her picket was illegal as it had not been sanctioned by the city authorities.
According to Qabylbek, her spouse, Raqyzhan Zeinollauly, a native of Xinjiang, obtained Kazakh citizenship in 2004 and traveled to Xinjiang the same year, where Chinese authorities arrested him and sentenced him to 13 years in prison on espionage charges.
Qabylbek says her husband fully served the term but Chinese authorities relocated him to another penitentiary on politically motivated charges, where they held him for 18 more months.
Qabylbek says her husband is currently under house arrest in Xinjiang and insists that Kazakh and Chinese authorities help repatriate her spouse.
Nobody came from the consulate to meet Qabylbek, while security officers asked her to submit her demands in written form.
Several similar protests have taken place in Kazakhstan in recent months as demonstrators demand Kazakh authorities officially intervene in the situation faced by ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.
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 reeducation camps. China denies that the facilities are internment camps.
Also in August 2018, a court in the Almaty region refused to extradite Sairagul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen who was wanted in China on charges of illegal border crossing.
Sauytbay fled China in April and testified in a court in Kazakhstan that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang were undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of 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.
Although she was not extradited to China, Kazakh authorities did not allow Sauytbay to stay in Kazakhstan. She later was granted asylum in Sweden.
Two other ethnic Kazakh men from China, Qaster Musakhanuly and Murager Alimuly, who illegally crossed the Chinese-Kazakh border in October to, as they say, flee ill-treatment in Xinjiang, are currently on trial in Kazakhstan and may face extradition to China.