China Detains Kazakhs During 'Unity Week' in Troubled Xinjiang Region

Government officials are sent to live in the homes of ethnic minority families for a week, as Uyghur police officers are subjected to additional security checks.

Ethnic Kazakhs living in Xinjiang are shown in an undated photo.

Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have detained dozens of people for retweeting electronic greetings cards celebrating independence day in neighboring Kazakhstan, which marks its independence from the former Soviet Union on Dec. 16, RFA has learned.

At least 30 ethnic minority Kazakhs in Xinjiang have been detained in the regional capital Urumqi and in Xinyuan county after they forwarded the e-greetings, Kazakh sources in the region told RFA on Monday.

The detainees included large numbers of young people, including detainees named only as Ayala, Sakhalie, Haiser, Nurgul, and Dina, they said.

In Urumqi, the detainees included 27-year-old Kazakh woman Aygul Harhan, who was detained after she called her boyfriend, a citizen of Kazakhstan studying in Beijing, and wished him "Happy Independence Day."

Urumqi police also detained 45-year-old ethnic Kazakh businessman Berik Tourdebey after he raised a glass with friends, calling out the toast: "Tomorrow is Kazakhstan independence day: the 26th year of independence for Kazakhstan!"

Meanwhile, in the Altay region of Xinjiang, which borders Kazakhstan, authorities recently detained three ethnic Kazakhs in Qinggil (in Chinese, Qinghe) county, a former township official told RFA.

"Three people in Qinggil county have been detained, and we are trying to find out where they are," the former official said. "We found out [on Saturday] that they have been detained, but we don't know where they're being held."

'Unity Week'

The detentions came during "Unity Week," a mass deployment of government officials into the homes of ethnic minority households, where they were instructed to live alongside their host families, helping out with household tasks, and buying them essential supplies like food and coal.

They have also been instructed to "preach the 19th," a reference to President Xi Jinping's blueprint for the next two decades rolled out at the 19th party congress in October.

Government-backed organizations and government departments at all levels sent their staff to specially selected households in "grassroots" areas of Xinjiang in the hope of promoting national unity, official media reported.

"The first batch of cadres [were required to] help their hosts with the chores, not to behave as guests and to give as little trouble as possible, to sweep the yard, clean up the outbuildings, preach the 19th, and do anything you can to help," news portal Sohu.com reported on a "Unity Week" deployment of regional sports bureau officials.

Meanwhile, the regional government has also issued order for all ethnic minority Uyghur police officers and government employees to report to headquarters for "security checks," and to hand in their service weapons, according to Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress exile group.

"When the Uyghur police officers enter the main headquarters of the Urumqi police department, they have to hand in their service weapons," he said. "There are notices saying that they must submit to security scanning on entering the building, whereas Han Chinese officer don't need to do this."

"There are different channels for Uyghur and Han Chinese officers," he said, making an analogy with airport security channels.

The new measures came amid a new ethnic unity campaign launched in the region on Dec. 11, titled "Unity Week," during which officials at all levels of government were billeted to live in the homes of specially selected "unity households," Raxit said.

He strongly condemned the additional surveillance measures targeting Uyghurs.

Hundreds held


Sources estimate that Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have detained hundreds of ethnic Kazakhs in recent weeks, freezing their bank accounts and assets pending "investigation," for “extremist” behavior that includes normal Islamic practices.

Other ethnic Kazakh Chinese nationals have been detained for having overseas ties, including relatives living or studying in Kazakhstan, or for holding permanent residency cards of that country.

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

In September, Chinese police detained more than 50 Kazakhs after they watched video of a world-class boxing match featuring welterweight Kanat Islam, who formerly held a Chinese passport but became a citizen of Kazakhstan in 2011.

Official figures show that there are around 1.5 million Kazakhs in China, mostly concentrated in and around the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture.

China has previously welcomed Kazakhs who wished to relocate from Kazakhstan, but many Kazakhs with Chinese nationality are now heading back in the other direction, with their numbers peaking at nearly 38,000 in 2006.

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