Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have handed down a 16-and-a-half-year jail term to an ethnic Kazakh man on ethnic hatred charges, RFA has learned.
Manat Hamit, 45, was handed the sentence in May by a court in Burultokay (in Chinese, Fuhai) county in Xinjiang's Altay prefecture, sources said.
His appeal was rejected by a higher court, which upheld the original verdict and sentence.
Manat's sister Nurisha Manat, who currently lives in neighboring Kazakhstan, said the family has tried to to help him, but that the authorities had refused to give them any information, or to accept a lawyer they hired to help prepare his appeal.
"We didn't receive [any formal notification], but we heard from somebody that he planned to appeal," she said. "But the sentence remained at 16 years, for two charges, I believe, one of which was to do with ethnic separatism."
"He received 16 years ... He was detained at the end of April, and the trial was in July," she said.
"I think he had a lawyer but I could never manage to get through on the lawyer's number from here."
She said anyone who knew Manat in his hometown had also been targeted by police, and daren't speak out about his detention and sentencing.
An unnamed source in Manat's hometown described him as a scholarly civil servant who was detained on April 25 after the authorities found audio files of Quranic recitations on his computer.
He was initially accused of "disseminating terrorism-related audiovisual material," and "incitement to racial hatred and to racial discrimination."
He was sentenced in May at a secret trial, with no access to family visits or a lawyer.
The authorities had quickly located the audio files, which Manat had downloaded two years beforehand, and placed him under criminal detention.
The court indictment said: "Manat used religious extremist acts that amount to disseminating terrorist audiovisual content and incitement to ethnic hatred and discrimination."
A court typically hands down such heavy jail terms based on its view that a person's actions have done "serious harm" to society.
Repeated calls to the Burultokay county court, the Altay Intermediate People's Court and to Manat's former employers, the Burultokay county government personnel department, rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Local news website Yaxinwang said Manat had won an official award for his government work in 2015.
A Kazakh source living in Altay said the authorities are still waging a crackdown on ethnic minority Kazakhs who have ties with friends and family in neighboring Kazakhstan, including those who return to China after visiting them.
"It's not just in Altay: it's across the whole of Xinjiang," the source said. "If you go to Urumqi, the people there are scared, too, with surveillance cameras watching them, the police can be there in the space of a minute."
"People are afraid to allow friends and relatives from overseas to stay in their homes, because the police won't allow it, and force them to go and stay in a hotel or guesthouse for foreigners," the source said.
Sources estimate that Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have detained hundreds of ethnic Kazakhs this month, freezing their bank accounts and assets pending "investigation," 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.
Students who traveled to Egypt for Islamic studies have been rounded up by Egyptian authorities at China's behest, with some being taken back to China and most held incommunicado.
There are also moves afoot by authorities in Altay to “strengthen Han culture” in the border region, by insisting that minority groups learn to speak better Mandarin.
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.