ALMATY/FEB. 10 2021 (The Bulletin) — Apparently unconcerned by hardening language from the West towards Beijing and its treatment of ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs, the authorities in Kazakhstan jailed a man for protesting outside the Chinese consulate in Almaty.
Media reported that police detained Baibolat Kunbolatuly, who was part of a 10-person protest mainly of women holding photos of missing sons, brothers and husbands outside the consulate the day before, and that a court then efficiently sentenced him to 10 days in jail for breaking rules around mass gatherings. In Kazakhstan, protests require written permission from the authorities.
Mr Kunbolatuly had been protesting against the disappearance of his brother in China, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. He suspects that his brother is being held in one of China’s, by now notorious, re-education camps which have been built in Xinjiang province over the past four years to hold hundreds of thousands of Muslims.
China has said that the camps are education-focused and that they are designed to help ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs improve themselves. Human rights groups have called them prisons, a view Western governments are coming round to.
In Kazakhstan, reporting on the camps in Xinjiang has been minimal but protests against China and its actions in Xinjiang are becoming more widespread.
The issue of China’s treatment of its Muslim minorities in Xinjiang is a thorny issue for the Kazakh government.
It is reliant on Chinese cash to fund various infrastructure projects and China is also a major stakeholder in Kazakh industry. The flipside is that there are an estimated 200,000 ethnic Kazakhs living in Xinjiang and a large ethnic Uyghur population living in Kazakhstan.
And, embarrassingly for Kazakh officials, the major information leaks from Xinjiang over the past few years have also come from Kazakhs escaping over the border into Kazakhstan. They now want to prove to their Chinese counterparts that they are reliable partners.
— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021