President of Kazakhstan resigns – human rights activists demand support for persecuted Kazakhs
Ambivalent views on reeducation camps in China lead to loss of confidence in Nazarbayev (Press Release)
Following the surprising resignation of Kazakhstan's longtime President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) demands the new state leadership to provide consistent support for the persecuted Kazakhs in neighboring China. "The new state leadership must support the former inmates of the Chinese reeducation camps and grant them protection. This is the only way to regain the confidence of the Kazakh population," emphasized Ulrich Delius, the STP's director, in Göttingen on Tuesday. Further, the chairman of the Munich-based European Kazakh Forum, Omurhan Altin, called on Kazakhstan's government to rethink its relations with neighboring China. "Due to Kazakhstan's cosying up to China's government, Nazarbayev lost a lot of sympathy. The Kazakh people expect their leaders to advocate for the rights of the persecuted Kazakhs and Uyghurs in China," Altin stated.
Nazarbayev – who had been appointed president for life and who had been in power for nearly 30 years – surprisingly stepped down from office today, after the people had grown more and more dissatisfied during the last few months. The economic situation had deteriorated as well, as falling commodity prices had hit the oil and gas exporting country hard – and the way Nazarbayev had treated the persecution of Muslim people in the neighboring region of Xinjiang in China had caused disturbance and massive protests. Instead of openly addressing the persecution of the Kazakhs and Uyghurs, Kazakhstan's government had chosen the path of "silent diplomacy", trying to advocate for the release of Kazakh people who were held in reeducation camps.
More than 1.1 million Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and Kyrgyz people were locked up in detention centers in Xinjiang since April 2017. "Even if they are released, they have to fear for their safety in Kazakhstan. Several dozen former camp inmates are threatened with deportation to China, and human rights activists who dare to support them are systematically intimidated and silenced by the authorities," Delius criticized. For fear of offending China's government, Nazarbayev had declared the reeducation camps a taboo. Since the summer of 2018, tens of thousands of people took part in protests against the tabooing of these crimes against humanity – but Kazakhstan's leadership tried to suppress its critics. Thus, the founder of the human rights organization Atajurt, Serikzhan Bilash, had been arrested on March 9, 2019. He is now facing charges of inciting hatred against China. The first court hearing took place in Astana today. He is facing up to ten years in jail. "Atajurt merely campaigned for the human rights of persecuted Kazakhs, and for their protection," Delius stated.
Header image: Schedler/GfbV (2018)