Police abducted and arrested Kazakh citizen: Chinese police officers

Askar Azatbek, arrested by Chinese police in a border trade zone, is serving 20 years for spying.
By RFA Uyghur
2023.12.20
Police abducted and arrested Kazakh citizen: Chinese police officers Askar Azatbek, an ethnic Kazakh, had moved to Kazakhstan in 2016 from Xinjiang and obtained Kazakh citizenship while there.
Gauhar Kurmanalieva

Chinese police crossed into Kazakh territory in 2017 to arrest and abduct Askar Azabek, a naturalized Kazakh citizen, police and his family told Radio Free Asia.

Azatbek, now 47, was an ethnic Kazakh of Chinese nationality living in China’s far western Xinjiang region until 2016, when he traveled to Kazakhstan and acquired Kazakh nationality shortly thereafter. 

RFA had previously reported that Azatbek was arrested on Dec. 7, 2017, when he visited the Khorgos International Center for Boundary Cooperation, a special international trade zone on the Kazakhstan-China border. In 2018, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for espionage.

His sister, Gauhar Kurmanalieva, who lives in Kazakhstan’s largest city of Almaty, said he was forcefully detained by Chinese police while in the Khorgos Market, on the Kazakh side of the border. 

“His passport was confiscated and he was forcibly taken to China by car,” she said.

The court verdict from 2018 stated that Azatbek was arrested by the Khorgos county (Huocheng county in Chinese) Police Department in China. 

After months of effort to corroborate this, RFA managed to speak to a police officer in that department who was involved in Azatbek’s abduction and described what happened.

The officer, who insisted on not being identified, said that Azatbek had been blacklisted by the police due to a complaint from an acquaintance who had helped him get a visa but with whom he had a financial dispute. 

The officers spotted him in the trade zone on Dec. 7, 2017, and they brought him to the Kazakhstan border control office and interrogated him. 

Azatbek insisted that he was a citizen of Kazakhstan and refused to answer their questions, the officer said. The police found out that his Chinese citizenship was not yet erased from the archive and moved him from the Kazakhstan border office to Chinese territory. 

“He was a little bit arrogant. It was intense, so we treated him badly,” said the officer. 

“He ripped up a letter we wrote. Then we started having a conflict,” he said. “There were 15 [police officers], so finally we managed to control him.” 

Police then grabbed him by the collar, dragged him out of the Kazakhstan police office, forced him into a car and took him to the Chinese side, the officer said.

“He was grabbed by the neck and thrown out of the office,” the officer said. 

Azatbek refused to go to the Chinese side of the border, so the police pushed and pulled him to the car. “While he was … resisting, we beat his hand a couple of times,” the officer said.

Befriended apparent spy

Azatbek was apparently arrested because of his links to Daniyar Serikbayev, who worked at Kazakhstan’s Consulate in Urumqi. He was not aware that Serikbayev also worked for Kazakhstan’s National Security Commission, the country’s intelligence agency. 

Kurmanalieva said that the accusation of "espionage" against her brother was slander and that the arrest of a Kazakh national by the Chinese police was disrespecting Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.

“If China had proof that my brother committed a crime, instead of crossing the Kazakhstan border to arrest him, they should’ve done so via Interpol or should’ve discussed it diplomatically with Kazakhstan,” she said. “I think what China did is an insult to Kazakhstan.”

She called on the Kazakh government to act on behalf of her brother and to protect and restore the honor Kazakhstan.

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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