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100 Days In, Kazakhs Continue Protests For Release Of Relatives In Xinjiang

Protesters demand the return of their relatives from China outside the consulate in Almaty on May 18.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Rallies in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, by demonstrators demanding their relatives be released from prisons and so-called reeducation camps in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang have entered the 100th day.

Police did not allow a dozen protesters, mainly women, to get close to the Chinese Consulate to stage a rally on May 18, forcing them to hold their action at a distance from the consulate building.

"Our action is not illegal, while China's actions are illegal. China killed my father, is holding my mother and two brothers. I demand my family members to be released at once. I will continue my protest until they are released," protester Aqiqat Qaliolla, told RFE/RL.

Unlike previous protests, the May 18 event was covered by several leading media outlets from the Central Asian state, as it was the 100th day since the rallies started in February.

Since the beginning of the protests, the husband of one demonstrator, Farida Qabylbek, was released from house arrest in Xinjiang in early April and allowed to leave China for Kazakhstan.

Qabylbek's husband, Raqyzhan Zeinolla, spent 13 years in a Chinese prison on espionage charges and 18 months in what Chinese officials called a "reeducation camp," after which he was placed under house arrest.

RFE/RL correspondents entered the Chinese Consulate on May 18 and asked security officials if they were aware of the ongoing protest, but the officials refused to comment.

Last week, eight protesters were detained by police and fined for holding unsanctioned public events at the site.

Locked Up In China: The Plight Of Xinjiang's Muslims

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is partnering with its sister organization, Radio Free Asia, to highlight the plight of Muslims living in China's western province of Xinjiang.

The U.S. Embassy on May 12 expressed support for the protesters as they demand information about their relatives in Xinjiang.

"We condemn China's mass imprisonment of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities. The U.S. Mission stands with those who are seeking information about their family members in Xinjiang. People should not be detained for assembling and expressing themselves peacefully," the U.S. Embassy statement said.

The U.S. State Department has said that 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 but 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.

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    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service offers informed and accurate reporting in the Kazakh and Russian languages about issues that matter in Kazakhstan, while providing a dynamic platform for audience engagement and the free exchange of news and ideas.