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After 16 Years In Chinese Prison, Man Finally Gets Kazakh Citizenship Certificate

Raqyzhan Zeinolla with his wife, Farida Qabylbek, upon his return to Kazakhstan in April.
Raqyzhan Zeinolla with his wife, Farida Qabylbek, upon his return to Kazakhstan in April.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- An ethnic Kazakh man from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang has received a certificate confirming his Kazakh citizenship after serving 16 years in Chinese custody.

The Almaty regional migration service handed the citizenship certificate to 58-year-old Raqyzhan Zeinolla on August 25, his wife Farida Qabylbek told RFE/RL.

Qabylbek said her husband was happy to get the certificate but cannot talk to journalists as he signed a gag order while in custody in China saying that he will not talk to the press about his incarceration there.

Zeinolla moved to Kazakhstan via the Central Asian nation's special program to relocate ethnic Kazakhs to the country in the late 1990s. In 2003, he applied for Kazakh citizenship and a year later he was informed that it had been granted.

However, before receiving his citizenship certificate, Zeinolla decided to visit relatives in his native Xinjiang. He was arrested there on espionage charges and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

After serving his full sentence, Zeinolla was re-arrested in 2018 and sent to a "political reeducation camp" for 18 months amid a crackdown by Beijing on the mostly Muslim indigenous population of Xinjiang.

He finally returned to to Kazakhstan in April.

Qabylbek, along with dozens of people, rallied near the Chinese Consulate in Almaty for many months before her husband was allowed to return to Kazakhstan.

In recent years, many similar protests have taken place in Kazakhstan with demonstrators demanding that Kazakh authorities officially intervene in the situation faced by ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.

The U.S. State Department has said that as many as 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of Xinjiang's other indigenous, mostly Muslim ethnic groups have been taken to detention centers.

China denies that the facilities are internment camps, but people who have fled the province say people from the groups are undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of facilities officially referred to as reeducation camps.

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