NUR-SULTAN -- The leader of a group that raised concerns over the internment of ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs in China's northwestern Xinjiang region, Serikzhan Bilash, has gone on trial for inciting ethnic discord.
The trial started on July 29 in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, but the judge quickly ruled that it must continue in Almaty, the Central Asian nation's largest city, because that is where Bilash allegedly committed his crime of extremist speech.
The judge also ruled that Bilash must remain under house arrest with his family at his apartment in Almaty.
Bilash, the leader of Atazhurt Eriktileri (Volunteers of the Fatherland), has been under house arrest in Nur-Sultan since March after his organization staged several gatherings of ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang who have resettled in Kazakhstan.
He has criticized the conditions at what the Chinese government calls "reeducation camps."
Bilash has been accused of advocating an uprising against the Chinese Communist Party because of alleged atrocities being committed at the camps.
During a break in the trial, Bilash made a statement for domestic and foreign journalists in English, saying that he does not consider himself guilty.
"I have been raising the issue of what can be described as genocide against Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other mainly Turkic people in Xinjiang. Hundreds of thousands of them are being forced into so-called reeducation camps, where they face torture and humiliation," Bilash said, adding that Kazakhs are the second-largest indigenous ethnic group after Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Bilash also said that China’s influence in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations is growing and warned that "China’s soft power and money is turning Kazakh authorities and intellectuals into Beijing’s agents of influence."
Bilash was born in Xinjiang, which borders Kazakhstan, and is a naturalized Kazakh citizen.
In February, an Almaty court found Bilash guilty of being the leader of an unregistered organization and fined him the equivalent of $670.
Atazhurt Eriktileri has been operating in Kazakhstan since 2017 without registration.
Bilash has said that his group would continue to defend the rights of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang, where some of his relatives still live.
The United Nations said last August that an estimated 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim indigenous people of Xinjiang were being held in what it described as "counterextremism centers" in northwestern China.
The UN also said millions more had been forced into internment camps.
China says that the facilities are "vocational education centers" aimed at helping people steer clear of terrorism and allowing them to be reintegrated into society.