ALMATY, Kazakhstan – Police in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, have detained six protesters who were demanding the release of relatives they say are being illegally held in China.
The November 29 rallies in front of the Chinese Consulate in Almaty were the latest in a series of demonstrations in Kazakhstan linked to the massive detention of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the neighboring Chinese province of Xinjiang.
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.
One of the detained persons, Gulfia Qazybek, managed to call RFE/RL and said that she was being transported to a hospital to treat injuries to her hand that she sustained while being forced into a police car. She added that she was taken to a police station along with three other women, Khalida Aqytkhan, Zhamila Maken, Gauhar Qurmanghalieva, and two men, Baibolat Kunbolatuly and Nurzat Ermekbai.
Demonstrators have demanded Kazakh authorities do more to protect ethnic Kazakhs who have been caught up in the Chinese sweep. Kazakhstan’s government, however, has been wary of angering Beijing, which is a major investor in Kazakhstan and throughout Central Asia.
As many as 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of Xinjiang's other indigenous, mostly Turkic-speaking 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 facing pressure from Chinese authorities or even arrest 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, also known as Dungans.
China's largest ethnicity, the Han, is the second-largest ethnic group in Xinjiang.