China's reeducation camps are fueling human rights violations, even in Kazakhstan
Arrests of human rights activists in Kazakhstan - Germany should advocate for release (Press Release)
The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has called for the immediate release of a well-known human rights activist who was arrested in Kazakhstan on Saturday night. He had advocated for the persecuted Muslim minority in neighboring China. The director of the human rights organization Atajurt, Serikzhan Bilashuly, was arrested based on accusations of having incited hatred between different nationalities. "The arrest of the renowned human rights activist shows that China's security authorities have become quite powerful in Kazakhstan. He is one of the most prominent critics of China's reeducation camps. Because of his attempts to help Chinese partisans in Kazakhstan, he had already been under massive pressure by supporters of the Chinese Communist Party for the last few months. His arrest is a slap in the face for Kazakhstan's civil society, and the German government must demand him to be released – immediately! The Atajurt organization serves as the voice of the persecuted Kazakhs minority in China," emphasized Ulrich Delius, the STP's director, in Göttingen on Sunday.
Last night at around midnight, the Kazakh security forces arrested Bilashuly at the Hotel Rahat Palace in Almaty. He had taken refuge there after he had noticed suspicious persons in the vicinity of his apartment when he returned from a meeting. After his arrest, he was taken to the capital, Astana, where he was informed about the charges of him violating Article 174 of the penal code – meaning that he might be facing up to ten years imprisonment. The article, which is very vague, is often used against human rights activists. It is also used to keep members of religious minorities from practicing their right to freedom of religion.
"With this arrest, China's dirt campaign against Kazakh human rights activists has reached a new peak," Delius said. Atajurt had tried to mobilize the Kazakh public to demand the government to show more commitment to help the persecuted Kazakhs in China, which had led to attacks against the human rights activists in recent months. In January 2019, a group of 20 pro-Chinese Kazakh politicians had sent an open letter to President Nazarbayev, demanding a ban on Atajurt. They justified their initiative by stating that the organization had incited hatred between different population groups. "The accusations are absurd – but this is a common way to silence Chinese human rights activists who dare to advocate for the constitutional rights of the nationalities," Delius stated.
For Kazakhstan's government, the criticism in its own country is quite problematic. On the one hand, it does not want to upset neighboring China with criticism of the dramatic human rights situation in Xinjiang, as China is one of Kazakhstan's most important economic and political partners. On the other hand, the government is under increasing pressure from its own population, which is demanding more commitment for the persecuted Kazakhs in China. "Obviously, China has stepped up its pressure on Kazakhstan and is now trying to fuel human rights violations there," Delius emphasized.
During the past few months, Atajurt had advocated for Kazakhs who were forced to flee from Xinjiang to Kazakhstan – and the organization prevented several deportations to China. Since April 2017, about 1.1 million Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and Kyrgyz from Xinjiang have been sent to reeducation centers in order to brainwash them and destroy the identity of these Muslim nationalities.
Header image: Schedler/GfbV (2018)