ALMATY -- Security services in Kazakhstan have detained the leader of a group that has raised concerns over problems faced by ethnic Kazakhs in China.
A spokesman for the group, Volunteers of the Fatherland, told RFE/RL that Serikzhan Bilash was staying at an Almaty hotel when he was taken into custody at around 2:30 a.m. on March 10.
Bilash was later brought to the Department of Internal Affairs in the capital, Astana, said the spokesman, Kairat Baitullah.
Astana police confirmed the detention and said that Bilash was suspected of inciting "national discord or hatred.”
They did not provide details about the case.
Bilash, who was born in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang bordering Kazakhstan, is a naturalized Kazakh citizen.
In recent months, he has organized several gatherings of ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang who settled in Kazakhstan and complained that their relatives were held in so-called reeducation camps in the Chinese region.
Bilash’s wife, Leila Adilzhan, told the AP news agency that she was “afraid” that the Kazakh government will hand him over to China.
Adilzhan also said that the Volunteers of the Fatherland’s offices were being searched.
Aiman Umarova, a lawyer advising the group, called the case "politically motivated."
"Bilash's arrest is connected with his actions against Chinese camps, and his support for Kazakh people and other Muslims in the camps," Umarova said.
"Our government doesn't want to spoil relations between Kazakhstan and China," she added.
In February, an Almaty court found Bilash guilty of illegally leading an unregistered organization, and ordered him to pay a fine of 252,000 tenges ($670).
Bilash, who pleaded not guilty at his trial, said that Volunteers of the Fatherland has been active since spring 2017.
He also said that the group will continue to defend the rights of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang, and that he will try again to register the group at the Justice Ministry.
The United Nations said in August last year that an estimated 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims from Xinjiang were being held in "counterextremism centers."
The UN also said millions more had been forced into reeducation camps.
China says that the facilities are not internment camps, but "vocational education centers" aimed at helping people steer clear of terrorism and allow them to be reintegrated into society.