Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have detained an ethnic Kazakh family after they returned from a visit to relatives in neighboring Kazakhstan, sources in the region said on Friday.
Nurhoja Teksi was detained alongside his wife and two elderly relatives last month after crossing the border into China following a lengthy stay in Almaty, a Kazakhstan-based source said.
The couple were in the process of taking the elderly relatives back to visit their hometown in Xinjiang’s Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, she said.
“Nurhoja was en route to Mongolküre county in Ili prefecture, traveling on a truck along with his wife,” the source said. “They had said they would be back in a couple of days, and four of them went, and were all detained.”
She added: “Their two kids are still here in Almaty. The neighbors are looking after them.”
A second Kazakhstan source said Chinese authorities are now routinely detaining ethnic minority Kazakhs who attend mosque or who pray regularly.
The majority of them are handed prison sentences of 3-7 years, but the authorities seldom inform their families of their whereabouts or sentences, the source said.
The families are therefore unable to hire defense lawyers for their loved ones, he said.
He said many of the relatives of those detained are themselves living under the threat of reprisals from police, so they daren’t speak out about the detainees.
A third Kazakh source said he had recently been back to China to cancel his household registration, a mandatory requirement for naturalized Kazakhstan nationals to get visas to visit friends and family back in China.
He said many of his family members had refused to see him, and the police are currently patrolling the streets of all ethnic Kazakh areas.
He quoted his brother as saying: “Forgive me brother, but I can’t let you visit. I have two sons, both of whom have been detained, and I now have more than 50 of my friends and relatives in ‘study centers’.”
Mass detentions of Uyghurs, Kazahks
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, RFA has learned.
The crackdown on Uyghurs -- who, like Kazakhs, are Turkic-language speakers and mostly Muslims -- has seen large numbers of males taken away for re-education, leaving women and children to work the fields.
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 the Altay region, near the Kazakhstan border, to “strengthen Han culture” in the border region, by insisting that minority groups learn to speak better Mandarin, according to a video shared with RFA by a local source.
“Elderly Kazakhs are now learning Mandarin, in their 70s and 80s,” an Altay-based Kazakh who asked to remain anonymous said on Friday.
“As you can see in the video, they keep trying to pronounce the word ‘dangran’, but they can’t say it,” he said. “The elderly never do speak it well, and now they are being made to speak Mandarin.”
He said Kazakh has now been eliminated from the curriculum in the region’s schools, where all classes are taught in Mandarin, a move that contravenes China’s own laws governing the administration of the country’s autonomous regions and sub-regions.
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.