Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have detained around 10 ethnic minority Kazakhs for "having close ties" with a group of Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs, local sources told RFA.
The Kazakhs were detained on June 10 by the Dushanzi district state security police in Xinjiang's Karamay city, a local resident said, naming two detainees as Halibyat Baimullah, 47, and Kanjitai Dushan, 49.
They were accused of cultivating "close ties" with a group of Muslim Uyghurs for prayer, the source said.
"The police detained a lot of people; a whole minibus was completely full," the source told RFA in a recent interview.
The source said the accusations against the men made him angry.
"They were like, why are you on such good terms with the Uyghurs," he said. "They have been watching very closely lately, at any rate."
He said the authorities have imposed strict controls on Muslims in Xinjiang during the traditional Ramadan month of dawn-to-dusk fasting.
"When it gets to be lunchtime during Ramadan, they get all of the Muslim employees together in their workplace and force them to eat," the source said. "But Muslims aren't supposed to eat lunch during Ramadan."
China's Kazakh ethnic minority, many of whom are Muslims, have recently been targeted in a similar manner to the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, with a slew of restrictions preventing them from moving freely between China and neighboring Kazakhstan, regional sources have told RFA.
Last week, authorities in the regional capital Urumqi forced ethnic minority state employees and members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to swear a mass oath of loyalty, state media reported on June 14.
State employees and party officials are banned from any form of religious belief under the atheist Communist Party, and have previously reported being forced to eat during Ramadan to confirm their loyalty to Beijing.
The oath ceremony also included hymns of praise to the ruling party, including the singing of the Mao-era revolutionary anthem "Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China."
The crackdown on Ramadan comes amid ever-tightening surveillance and "stability maintenance" operations targeting Kazakhs as well as Uyghurs.
Earlier this year, a prominent Kazakh imam known as Okan was jailed for 10 years by a court in Habahe county, Altay (Aletai) Prefecture, for performing traditional funeral prayers in accordance with Islamic customs, while a Kazakh imam died in police custody in Xinjiang's Sanji (Changji) Hui Autonomous Prefecture, in what police called a "suicide."
Many of the religious restrictions imposed for many years on Xinjiang's Uyghur population have now been applied to Kazakhs, too, according to members of the ethnic group in China and Kazakhstan, with the authorities criminalizing formulaic exchanges of blessings using traditional Islamic phrases in the Kazakh language.
In February, authorities in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture near the border with Kazakhstan detained and secretly sentenced a Kazakh man, Yeshat, 22, in connection with his posts to the popular WeChat messaging app.
Yeshat was accused of spreading "separatist extremist speech and extremist religious ideas and other information" from his WeChat account. Media reports at the time said he had "confessed" to the charges against him and to his "mistakes."
A Kazakh source said he was jailed for 10 years by authorities in Ili's Emin county in a secret trial, and denied contact with a lawyer or his family.
Repeated calls to the Emin County People's Court rang unanswered during office hours last week.
Residence cards returned
In a related development, authorities in Arahak township near Xinjiang's Altay city began handing back permanent residence cards issued by the government of Kazakhstan to ethnic Kazakhs holding Chinese passports after ordering them to hand them in to police, a Kazakhstan resident told RFA.
"I think the authorities were afraid after you reported this in Chinese, because it was a breach of international law, and other laws," the resident said. "I think this led to an international backlash, and they got worried."
"They have been working round the clock to give back all of the Kazakh green cards," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.