Kazakhstan National Missing, Believed Detained in China, Amid Ongoing Crackdown

2017-12-27
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Kazakhstan passport of Askar Azatbek, 41, a former ethnic Kazakh grain bureau official in Xinjiang, who was last seen Dec. 7 and is feared to be in jail.
Kazakhstan passport of Askar Azatbek, 41, a former ethnic Kazakh grain bureau official in Xinjiang, who was last seen Dec. 7 and is feared to be in jail.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

A former official in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang who became a citizen of Kazakhstan is missing, believed kidnapped amid an ongoing crackdown on ethnic minority groups with overseas ties, sources told RFA on Wednesday.

Askar Azatbek, 41, a former ethnic Kazakh official from the grain bureau of Qabqal Xibe county in Xinjiang's Ili Kazakh autonomous prefecture, which borders the independent state of Kazakhstan, was last seen at around 4.30 p.m. on Dec. 7, a Kazakh source told RFA.

"They took someone away [on the Chinese side of the border] from the international market inside the Khorgos border checkpoint," the source said. "They have been petitioning up as far as the Kazakhstan president and the Kazakhstan police and foreign ministry."

Azatbek's passport, issued by Kazakhstan on Oct. 6, shows his place of birth as China, according to a copy of the document seen by RFA.

He is currently being held in an unofficial "black jail" in Khorgos county, the source said.

An official who answered the phone at the Ili police department said queries would only be taken from journalists in person.

Meanwhile, authorities in Narat township of Xinjiang's Xinyuan county detained Nurdanhas Baizhuma, sending him to a 're-education center for extremists' in August, then placing him under criminal detention on his release, a source said.

Nurdanhas, 35, was placed on a blacklist after borrowing a bank card belonging to an ethnic Uyghur friend, the source said.

Wide crackdown on Turkic Muslims

Nadiya, a 32-year-old ethnic Kazakh woman, was released earlier this month from a political re-education center after being sent there last May. She was redetained shortly afterwards and was handed a five-year jail term by a court in Xinyuan county last week for possessing images of a Friday greeting on her cell phone, marking the weekly day of prayers for Muslims.

And a Kazakh high-school teacher known by her social media nickname Sara38 was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for having "close dealings" with a previously sentenced ethnic Kazakh student who returned from Turkey.

China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.

The government has detained large numbers of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities simply for posting religious videos not approved by officials, or for possessing copies of the Quran, prayer mats and traditional clothing, all of which have been described as evidence of "extremism" by Chinese police in recent months.

Although the campaign has fallen most heavily on the region's Uyghurs, sources estimate that Chinese authorities in Xinjiang also have detained hundreds of ethnic Kazakhs in recent months, freezing their bank accounts and assets pending "investigation," also for “extremist” behavior that includes normal Islamic practices.

Both Kazakhs and ethnic minority Uyghurs are being detained in “political study centers” in unprecedented numbers across the region, sources have repeatedly told RFA.

The camps are in operation throughout Xinjiang and contain detainees from the Uyghur, Kyrgyz and Kazakh communities—all Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities in China—under policies introduced by hardline Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, sources have said.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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