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Kazakh Rights Commissioner Meets People Demanding Release Of Relatives From Chinese Custody

Kazakh Human Rights Commissioner Elvira Azimova (file photo)
Kazakh Human Rights Commissioner Elvira Azimova (file photo)

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan's human rights commissioner, Elvira Azimova, has held a rare meeting with a group of people whose relatives are being held in custody in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang and who have asked for the Central Asian country's government to help secure their release.

Azimova did not talk to the press after the meeting on October 4 in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, but one of the participants, Baibolat Kunbolatuly, told RFE/RL that the commissioner had promised to look into each case presented to her by the group.

Police in Nur-Sultan last week detained eight protesters, mostly women, who demanded the release of relatives from China's so-called reeducation camps in Xinjiang.

They were later fined for violating regulations on public gatherings.

The October 1 protest was the latest in a series of demonstrations in Kazakhstan linked to the mass detention of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic groups in the neighboring Chinese province of Xinjiang.

The latest protests started on September 20, with demonstrators traveling to Nur-Sultan from the country's commercial capital, Almaty, where groups had rallied for months in front of the Chinese Consulate.

Demonstrators have been demanding that Kazakh authorities do more to protect ethnic Kazakhs who have been caught up in the Chinese sweep.

The Kazakh government, however, has been wary of angering Beijing, which is a major investor in Kazakhstan and the whole of Central Asia.

As many as 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of Xinjiang's other indigenous, mostly Muslim, ethnic groups have been taken to detention centers in the western Chinese region, according to the U.S. State Department.

China denies that the facilities are internment camps but people who have fled the province say that thousands are undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of facilities known officially as reeducation camps.

After Kazakhstan gained independence following the Soviet collapse in 1991, many ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang and elsewhere resettled in Kazakhstan, as part of a state program.

Many obtained permanent residence or citizenship but continue to visit Xinjiang either to see relatives or for bureaucratic reasons. Some have reportedly faced pressure from Chinese authorities or even arrests and imprisonment

Kazakhs are the second-largest Turkic-speaking indigenous community in Xinjiang after Uyghurs. The region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui (aka Dungans).

China's largest ethnicity, the Han, is the second-largest ethnic group in Xinjiang.

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