ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Three women have demonstrated outside the Chinese Consulate in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, to demand the release of their relatives in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Farida Qabylbek, Gulnur Qosdauletqyzy, and Nurzat Ermekba displayed their relatives' pictures and posters as they launched their protest on February 8.
Qabylbek said her husband, Rakhyzhan Zeinolla, who is a naturalized Kazakh citizen, spent 13 years in prison in Xinjiang on espionage charges before he was sent to a so-called reeducation camp, where he spent one year and is currently under house arrest.
Qosdauletqyzy and Ermekbai said their relatives in Xinjiang had been taken away by the police and kept incommunicado for years. They said they feared that their relatives are in the reeducation camps.
Consulate security officials met the women and told them that consulate officials, citing pandemic precautions, would not meet with them.
A city administration official, Rita Ermanova, came to the site and told the women that their demonstration was illegal, but the women refused to leave.
Many similar protests have taken place in Kazakhstan in recent years, with demonstrators demanding the Kazakh authorities officially intervene in the situation faced by ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.
The U.S. State Department has said 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.
People who have fled the province say that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang are undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of facilities known officially as reeducation 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.