ZHARKENT/Kazakhstan, Aug. 1 (The Conway Bulletin) – A court in this border town in southeast Kazakhstan turned down Beijing’s extradition request for an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen after a trial that revealed details of secret “re-education camps” in China.
The plight of Sayragul Sauytbay, who crossed the China-Kazakhstan border illegally in April to join her husband and children who had left two years earlier, created a conundrum for the Kazakh authorities. They have generally acquiesced to the demands of their powerful neighbour but Ms Sauytbay’s case was played out against growing domestic resentment over Chinese treatment towards ethnic Kazakhs and the emergence of details about the “re-education camps”.
Ms Sauytbay said she had been blocked from leaving China in 2016 because she was a state employee. She also said that after he was blocked from leaving China, she had been forced to work in a “re-education camp”. She told the court on July 17 that the camp she worked in held 2,500 people. China has denied the existence of the camps in its western Xinjiang province.
These camps have mainly been aimed at Uyghurs, who China accuses of stoking rebellion.
“In China they call it a political camp but really it was a prison in the mountains,” she said two weeks ago. “That I am discussing this camp in an open court means I am already revealing state secrets.”
And to gasps and cheers from the several dozen people crowded into the small, hot, airless courthouse on Aug. 1, the judge handed Ms Sauytbay a suspended six-month sentence and set her free.
After the verdict, an emotional Ms Sauytbay said: “If I stayed another five days or a week I might have gone missing in China.”
Information leaking out of China has described how the authorities are cracking down on thousands of Kazakhs who live there. Many Kazakhs fled over the Tien Shan mountains in the 1920s and 1930s when the Soviets started to force nomadic Kazakhs into collective farms. Since independence in 1991, nearly 90,000 ethnic Kazakhs have moved from China to Kazakhstan.
China has not commented.
>>This story was first published in issue 380 of the weekly Conway Bulletin newspaper on Aug. 3 2018