Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have sentenced an ethnic Kazakh man to 12 years' imprisonment after detaining him amid an ongoing crackdown on ethnic minority groups who study or seek to emigrate overseas, sources told RFA.
Chinese authorities have lately issued orders for ethnic Kazakh Chinese nationals to hand in their passports and Kazakh green cards in some parts of Xinjiang, although sources said some local governments have since returned the documents to their owners following recent news coverage.
Police in Arishan (in Chinese, Wenquan) county of Xinjiang's Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture recently detained an unknown number of local people including farmers, herders, students and government officials, who had relatives living across the border in Kazakhstan, and were detained for the alleged offense of "discussion of how to emigrate to Kazakhstan on group chat."
Among them was an official from Arishan's county town, Nurdalit Ebrey, who was detained on May 14 to an unknown location by police, with no documentation.
Former student Taghirsyz Dawutkhan was also detained in mid-May after repeatedly visiting friends and relatives in Kazakhstan, and has now been sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment with no access to a lawyer, his friend told RFA.
"The police have been torturing this person, to the extent that he required emergency medical treatment in hospital," his friend said in a recent interview. "As soon as he got out of hospital, he was sentenced."
The friend said the torture was carried out so as to secure a "confession."
"The police beat him to sort him out because of he was just carrying out some normal work on behalf of all the people here who want to emigrate to Kazakhstan," he said. "The lawyer tried to get involved, but wasn't allowed. He said it was because of various political factors."
Seven ethnic minority Kazakhs who hold Chinese passports fled to Turkey after their political asylum applications were rejected by Kazakhstan, with two others now incommunicado after being repatriated to China from Egypt.
China-directed crackdown in Cairo
The Kazakhs were among some 200 ethnic minorities with Chinese passports targeted last month by Egypt's secret police in an operation activists said was requested by Beijing. The 200 students, many of them religious students at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Islamic University, were detained since July 4, rounded up in restaurants or at their homes, with others seized at airports as they tried to flee to safer countries, sources told RFA’s Uyghur Service at the time.
A Kazakh living in Xinjiang's Altay prefecture said the wider crackdown is continuing, targeting ethnic minority groups including the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs and Kazakhs, who have sons and daughters studying overseas, or who try to emigrate to live elsewhere.
"The Xinjiang authorities are deliberately targeting families with relatives or children studying or working in Kazakhstan, or those who have obtained Kazazhstan citizenship," the Kazakh resident said.
"The police and government officials keep visiting their homes the whole time and disturbing them, threatening them and carrying out 'ideological work' with them," he said.
"If they have kids studying overseas, they demand that they call them back home, and make them study in China instead."
A second Kazakh source said older parents of grown children are often very distressed by such harassment.
"[I know of one] couple who live in Xijiang but whose [grown child] already has a Kazakh passport, and the Xinjiang authorities won't stop harassing them the parents, questioning them about where exactly their kid is, their address, and whether they are a Muslim to the extent that they attend prayers five times a day," the source said.
"They demand that the elderly parents supply them with photographs of their son, his wife and their son, their house in Kazakhstan, their address and so on," he said.
Meanwhile, a source close to the overseas Chinese affairs office under the State Council said the bureau had recently sent its deputy director Tan Tianxing on a fact finding mission to Kazakhstan following a large number of news reports about the treatment of Chinese nationals with links overseas.
"The main problem is the confiscation of Kazakhstan passports belonging to Kazakhs in Xinjiang, as well as study visas for Kazakhstan," the source said. "There is also the detention of Kazakhs and the imam."
A Kazakh source in Kazakhstan spoke of a "wave" of ethnic Kazakh Chinese nationals wanting to study in Kazakhstan.
"There is a huge wave of young Kazakhs in Xinjiang wanting to study in Kazakhstan, but they can't come now, because of all of the restrictions imposed by the authorities back in Xinjiang," the source said.
Ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang face additional requirements if they wish to leave China, compared with the Han Chinese.
An official who answered the phone at Altay's Qinghe county No. 1 Village committee confirmed that ethnic minority groups need to obtain their approval if they wish to leave the country.
"They need to go to the neighborhood and village committees in the place that they live and get a stamp, as well as a stamp from the police station and the civil affairs bureau of the local government. They need to get four or five stamps."
"It takes at least six weeks," she said.
Application forms for an exit permit recently issued by the Altay county police department and the minority and religious affairs bureau indicate that "ethnic minorities wishing to leave the country must obtain approval from a number of departments, and provide a signature from a guarantor."
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 now many Kazakhs with Chinese nationality are 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.