ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Police in Almaty have dismantled a tent set up by protesters in front of the Chinese Consulate as part of their protest demanding the release of their relatives from prisons and so-called reeducation camps in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.
Despite a police order not to erect tents at the site, dozens of protesters spent a 20th night in front of the consulate in Kazakhstan's largest city on September 14. One of the protesters, Khalida Aqytkhan, told RFE/RL that she will continue to spend her nights in front of the consulate even without a tent as she fights for the release of her three sons from Chinese custody.
After Kazakhstan gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang and elsewhere have 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, where some of them face pressure or even arrest and imprisonment. Some of the protesters have been rallying in front of the Chinese Consulate in Almaty for many months. The rallies of one of such protesters, Farida Qabylbek, paid off after her 58-year-old husband, Raqyzhan Zeinolla, was released from home arrest in Xinjiang and came to Kazakhstan from China in April after serving almost 15 years in prison and reeducation camps on espionage charges that his relatives rejected.
In recent years, many similar protests have taken place across Kazakhstan, with demonstrators demanding the 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 confined in detention centers. China denies that the facilities are internment camps, but individuals who have fled the province say people undergo "political indoctrination" at a network of facilities officially referred to as reeducation camps. Beijing's policies in Xinjiang are a sensitive issue in Kazakhstan. China is a major trading partner for the Central Asian country, and the Kazakh state-controlled media has generally avoided reporting about Beijing's policies in Xinjiang. 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.