Amid growing cross-border tensions over a dispute over Chinese restrictions on the free movement of Kazakhs to neighboring Kazakhstan, an elderly Kazakh mother has made an emotional plea to the country's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to put pressure on Beijing to release her son, an ethnic minority Kazakh actor in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Kazakhstan citizen Sabila Tacassi, mother of Zhenishan Baghdap, 50, made the plea in a video after he was taken away from his home by Chinese police in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi on May 2.
"I have been a Kazakh citizen for many years now, after emigrating from China in response to the President's call," she said. "I am a mother of seven, and became a Kazakh citizen in 2002."
"I have also won a Glorious Mother award from the government, as well as government subsidies, which, combined with my pension, mean that I live a comfortable life," she said.
The Chinese government in the mid-20th century issued Glorious Mother awards to women who gave birth to more than five children in recognition for their contribution to boosting the country's population so as to fortify it against Western imperialism.
"But now, I have suddenly discovered that my son Zhenishan Baghdap has been detained in China," she said.
Baghdap, a Kazakh voice actor and movie translator with family in Kazakhstan, may have been detained for posts made to social media, sources in the region told RFA on Thursday.
"This was a fairly high-powered guy, and quite a famous character," an anonymous source said. "He had previously worked in the Kazakh section of Xinjiang TV, and he was a famous voice actor who had also translated a lot of movies."
"The reason they detained him was probably because of something he did or said online," the source said. "But the authorities don't need a reason to detain people anymore."
Growing anger among Kazakhs
Baghdap's detention comes amid growing anger among Kazakhs with relatives in China over the Chinese Communist Party's apparent crackdown on the minority ethnic group within its borders.
Last month, a group of state scientists and other scholars hit out at the "persecution" of ethnic Kazakhs by Chinese authorities, and called on Astana to put pressure on Beijing.
Meanwhile, sources said two other people, a Kazakh named as Kalyhar and a member of China's Uzbek minority identified by the single name Rustum, were detained at the same time.
Kalyhar was detained at Xinjiang's Baktu border crossing on his way to Kazakhstan, a second source said.
"He had already bought a house in Almaty, and then gone back [to Xinjiang]," the source said. "Then he sold his house in [Xinjiang's] Tacheng, and was on his way back again."
"He was detained at the Baktu border crossing, carrying a huge amount of cash, and they wanted to know why he was taking so much money out of the country. He was a former cop in Tacheng, but they detained him anyway."
Rustum, meanwhile, was a devout Muslim youth with an elderly mother to care for, the source said.
"He said his prayers every day like an ordinary Muslim, and was detained," he said.
Passport, resident permit confiscations
Residents of Kazakhstan have complained they are being prevented from seeing their families after Chinese authorities began confiscating the passports and residence permits of ethnic minority Kazakhs whose family members live across the border.
Some 200,000 Kazakhs who hold Chinese passports and permanent residence cards for Kazakhstan were told to hand in their Kazakhstan-issued residency cards to Chinese police "for safekeeping," although sources later said officials in some parts of Xinjiang were rapidly backpedaling on the policy and working round the clock to send Kazakh green cards and passports back to their owners.
In a related development, Chinese police recently issued warrants for the arrest of some 200 Chinese nationals who follow prominent Kazakhstan blogger and podcaster Jarkan 7 on social media, sources in Kazakhstan told RFA this week.
"Some of them had been downloading Jarkan 7's podcasts or retweeting them, so now 200 Kazakhs are on the secret watch list [of the Xinjiang police], including me," the source said.
"I'm not afraid, because I am a Kazakh citizen, so they can't touch me or hurt me, but they have gone to visit my family, my parents a number of times," the source said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.