NUR-SULTAN -- Dozens of ethnic Kazakhs from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang have urged Kazakhstan to help secure the release of relatives, who they say are being kept in so-called "reeducation camps."
At a press conference in Nur-Sultan on November 27, several former detainees told journalists about their experience in reeducation camps in Xinjiang, where they say they spent years.
They said they were beaten, tortured, and sometimes kept in punitive metal cages where they were forced to kneel for several days at a time.
The chairman of the European Kazakh Forum, Omirkhan Altyn, criticized Kazakh authorities for their "failure to protect ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang...and ignoring the invitation to today's press conference."
Representatives of the German, British, and the U.S. embassies in the Kazakh capital were present at the press conference.
The Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao told RFE/RL on November 27 that the reports about ethnic Kazakhs being kept in custody in Xinjiang are "false."
After Kazakhstan gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang and elsewhere benefited from Kazakhstan's state program on resettlement of ethnic Kazakhs into the country.
Many of them obtained permanent residence in Kazakhstan or Kazakh citizenship but continue to visit Xinjiang on a regular basis either to see relatives or for bureaucratic reasons.
United Nations human rights officials said in August last year that an estimated 1 million Muslims, mainly Uyghurs, from Xinjiang were being held in "counterextremism centers" in China, while millions more have been forced into reeducation camps.
Uyghurs are the largest indigenous community in Xinjiang, followed by Kazakhs. The region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tatars, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans.
Han, China's largest ethnicity, are the second-largest community in Xinjiang.
In recent months, Kazakh settlers from China held several public rallies in Almaty and Nur-Sultan to protest against Beijing's policies in Xinjiang -- a sensitive issue in Kazakhstan.
China is a major trading partner for the Central Asian nation, and the Kazakh state-controlled media have generally avoided reporting about the internment centers in Xinjiang.
Similar protest rallies were also held in Kyrgyzstan and Russia's region of Tatarstan, where two ethnic Tatars from Xinjiang, brothers Shahrizat and Shahdiyar Shavkat, have been fighting a decision by local authorities to deport them to China.
The brothers says they were expelled from a university in Tatarstan after their parents in Xinjiang stopped paying for their tuition because they were sent to a reeducation camp. The brothers say they will face the same fate if sent back to Xinjiang.
China denies the facilities are internment camps, saying they are part of a "vocational education and training program" that helps people to "see clearly the essence and harm of terrorism and religious extremism."