China Detains Kazakh Rights Advocate: Activists

March 11, 2019 Updated: March 11, 2019

ALMATY—Kazakh police have detained a Chinese-born activist who has campaigned on behalf of ethnic Kazakhs in China, fellow activists said on March 10.

Serikzhan Bilash, a naturalized Kazakh citizen who was born in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, is a de facto leader and public face of Atajurt, a group that has worked for the release of ethnic Kazakhs from “re-education” camps where activists say more than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims are held.

A fiery orator fluent in Kazakh, Chinese and English, Bilash has become a prominent figure on the Kazakh political scene.

Atajurt said security forces had broken into Bilash’s hotel room in Almaty in the early hours of Sunday, detained him and quickly flown him to Astana, the capital of the former Soviet republic.

Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education center, under construction in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China on Sept. 4, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Bilash’s lawyer, Aiman Umarova, posted a video on Sunday saying she had just arrived in Astana and was going to visit him at the police department where he was being held.

Astana’s police department had no immediate comment.

The government of the Central Asian nation has avoided criticizing China’s Xinjiang policies, but negotiated the release of some two dozen people with dual Kazakh and Chinese citizenships detained in China.

On Feb. 7, rights activists urged Uzbekistan to deny a Chinese extradition request for an ethnic Kazakh citizen of China. Businessman Halemubieke Xiaheman, 41, from China’s Xinjiang Province, said in a video that he had been harassed by Chinese security officials to a point where his Russian and Kazakh clients were scared to work with him.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over what they say are mass detentions and strict surveillance of the large, mostly Muslim Uyghur population and other Muslim groups, including ethnic Kazakhs, who live in the Xinjiang region in northwest China.

By Olzhas Auyezov

RECOMMENDED