Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have detained hundreds of ethnic Kazakh business owners this month, freezing their bank accounts and assets pending "investigation," RFA has learned.
Police in Dorbiljin (in Chinese, Emin) county, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture have swooped on an estimated 500 ethnic Kazakh traders and businesses in raids from Nov. 6-11, sources said.
Meanwhile, the authorities are also targeting anyone remitting funds to relatives across the border in Kazakhstan, they said.
A resident of Dorbiljin who asked to remain anonymous said the raids had begun in early November, targeting ethnic Kazakhs in particular.
"In Dorbiljin county in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, there have been large numbers of arrests in November," the source said.
"They have detained 500 Kazakhs in the space of just a few days, the majority of them business people, some of them very wealthy, others sole traders," he said.
"What's more, they have sent them all off to Yining city," the resident said, in a reference to the prefectural capital.
The Kazakh source said that banks in Ili have also been ordered by the "strike hard" office of the prefectural government to freeze the accounts and assets of those detained.
Hard-line ethnic minority policies
Repeated calls to the Dorbiljin county government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
An operator who answered the phone at the regional information line said there was no number listed for the Yining Detention Center.
The report from Ili on sweeping detentions of ethnic minority Kazakhs comes after months reports that Chinese authorities in Xinjiang are continuing to detain large numbers of Uyghurs in "political study centers" similar to prison camps.The campaign is thought to be the brain child of Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanquo, who took over the region in August 2016 and brought hard-line ethnic minority policies he had previously rolled out in Tibet.
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.
As in the case with the Uyghurs, those Kazakhs being targeted often have overseas links, including a history of overseas study or family and friends across the border in Kazakhstan.
Chinese authorities are also believed to be holding a number of ethnic minority Kazakhs for wearing "Islamic" clothing and praying, a practice forbidden by the ruling Chinese Communist Party on university campuses across the country.
SIM card, money transfer
Meanwhile, Anargul Malik, a former Chinese national who acquired citizenship of Kazakhstan, told RFA that her sister, Margul Malik, is being held in a "closed political study center."
Malik said her sister, who lives in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi, was detained two months ago, with no word to the family, while she was still breastfeeding her two-year-old son.
"Her two-year-old son is getting thinner and ... his weight has dropped by two kilos," Malik, who is a doctor, said. "She was taken just two weeks after miscarrying her second child, and I am afraid that she might have a hemorrhage."
She traced her sister's troubles back to her visit to Xinjiang two months earlier, during which she borrowed her sister's ID card to buy a SIM card for her phone, prompting the police to question them both.
She said her sister's detention could also have been triggered by a transfer she made of 10,000 yuan to her sister's account in China.
"I sent her 10,000 yuan, and less than two hours later, the police came and took her away," Malik said. "We have had no news of her to this day."
"We don't even know if she's dead or alive. I have been three times [to China to enquire], but the police refuse to give me an answer," she said.
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.