Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have detained more than 50 members of the Kazakh ethnic group after they watched video of a world-class boxing match featuring welterweight Kanat Islam, sources told RFA on Thursday.
Those detained had all received and viewed the video, which had been banned by the ruling Chinese Communist Party amid a crackdown on ethnic Kazakhs migrating to neighboring Kazakhstan or maintaining family or cultural ties there.
Kanat Islam, who formerly held a Chinese passport, was a bronze welterweight medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as well as the 2006 Asian Games. He became a citizen of Kazakhstan in 2011.
Chinese police in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi have detained "more than 50" ethnic Kazakhs for viewing the video since Sept. 10, sources said. Many were hotel guests.
A further five Kazakhs were detained in Kanat's home county of Habahe, and are being held at an unknown location.
"They didn't even use circumvention software to get around the Great Firewall," the Urumqi source said. "They viewed footage live-streamed from the scene of the boxing match via the WeChat app by people in the crowd."
A source in Habahe county, Altay prefecture, close to the border with Kazakhstan, said Kazakhs in and outside of China regard Kanat, 33, as their hero.
"The Habahe county police won't let anyone talk about Kanat. You're not allowed to praise him or talk about what a cool guy he is or how well he fights," the source said. "That's banned."
"He won a bronze medal at the Olympics, but then he emigrated to Kazakhstan," he said. "I'm sure you are aware of the recent situation [for Kazakhs] in Xinjiang."
In recent months, Xinjiang’s government has implemented a regionwide “localization” policy that seeks to place curbs on ethnic Kazakh Chinese nationals, especially those with loved ones overseas.
The policy targets Chinese nationals who are holders of permanent residence permits, or “green cards,” for neighboring Kazakhstan, limiting the length of their stay in the country to six months maximum.
On July 15, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Public Security Bureau introduced new regulations, banning Chinese passport-holders with Kazakhstan green cards from staying in Kazakhstan for longer than six months at a time.
The Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture police department has also issued regulations banning retirees from staying in the country for more than one month at a time.
Offenders are being sent to "study centers" for "re-education," according to official notices.
Dozens detained, harassed
Dozens of Kazakhs have also faced detention, intimidation, and the confiscation of their passports and other documents because they have family members living or studying overseas.
Authorities in Kalamula village in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture's Xinyuan county recently confiscated the passport and mobile phone of a young man who had been studying overseas, before detaining him, sources told RFA on Thursday.
"This person has disappeared, and his passport hasn't been returned to him," a source based in Kazakhstan said. "He was in the second year of a physics and engineering degree at the National University of Kazakhstan."
Ethnic minority Kazakh Muslims were among some 200 ethnic minority holders of 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 in a crackdown that began on July 4, and were 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.
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.