Weekly Brief August 11th

World Uyghur Congress, 11 August 2017


China Targets Kazakh Ethnic Group

A number of reports this week further indicate that Chinese authorities in are increasingly targeting the Kazakh minority in East Turkestan. The Kazakhs are Turkic people and predominately Muslim, like the Uyghurs, who also constitute a sizable ethnic group in China, with between 1.25-1.5 million reportedly living in East Turkestan.

Throughout 2017, the Chinese government has stepped up its campaign targeting members of the Kazakh minority in East Turkestan. Heavy restrictions on freedom of movement, expression, privacy and religion have all been felt as authorities have focused their attention on individuals with contacts outside the country. In recent months, they have been particularly singled out for repressive policies targeting the peaceful practice of Islam and any individuals with overseas ties, much like the Uyghurs.

This week, it was reported that Nurjan Memet, a Kazakh imam from East Turkestan’s Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, failed to reappear after his jail sentence ended. He was arrested for “engaging in illegal religious activities”, which reportedly was for performing a traditional Muslim “nikah” wedding ceremony. His expected release date was on 31 July 2017, but sources say he has yet to return home and friends and family have received no word from him.

Radio Free Asia also reported this week on the situation of 7 ethnic minority Kazakhs with Chinese passports who were hiding in Turkey after their political asylum applications were rejected by Kazakhstan. They were reportedly among the ethnic minorities with Chinese passports in Egypt who were targeted by the Egyptian secret police at the request of China. They stated that 2-4 ethnic Kazakhs were forcibly repatriated to China from Egypt and have not been heard from since.

Dozens of ethnic Kazakhs were detained in early August in East Turkestan for maintaining ties to friends and relatives beyond the border. More than thirty others were detained since the start of 2017 for conversations on their smartphones with friends and relatives about how best to emigrate to Kazakhstan.

In response, the World Uyghur Congress has issued a press release expressing solidarity with all other ethnic minorities that make up East Turkestan and calling on the Chinese government to halt its increasing restrictions on ethnic Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities native to the region and to uphold international standards in terms of fair treatment and protection for vulnerable groups.

Italian Politicians Inquire about Dolkun Isa’s Detention

In response to the detainment and denial of entry of the World Uyghur Congress’s General Secretary, Dolkun Isa into the Italian Senate on July 26th, a number of Italian politicians have raised the issue and sought clarification in the Italian Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

Dolkun Isa was arrested by 15-20 General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS) officers outside the entrance of the Italian Senate. Isa was scheduled to speak at a conference organised by UNPO in collaboration with the Nonviolent Radical Party, entitled “SOS Rule of Law: The Uyghur Emergency“. After being held at the police station for over 3 hours, Mr. Isa was released. He was told by Italian police that his information was run through the INTERPOL database and that there was a “red alert” on his name, meaning that action was requested by Chinese authorities.

In response, Italian Senators Luigi Compagna and Luigi Manconi, together with Italian Member of Parliament Roberto Rampi submitted 2 questions to the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate to clarify what the official position on the situation was. In the questions, the three politicians inquired how the government could take action to avoid abuse of the Interpol’s “red alert” instrument in Italy and abroad in the future, sought clarification of who called for Dolkun Isa to undergo security checks and why were these checks timed to coincide with his speech, and what plan could be put in place to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

Uyghur Scholar Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

Hebibulla Tohti, a prominent Uyghur theological scholar was sentenced to 10 years in prison by Chinese authorities for “illegal religious activity” following his voluntary return from Egypt, according to local sources. Tohti was sponsored by the country’s state-sanctioned Islamic Association and had studied at the prestigious Al-Azhar Islamic University in Egypt.

Tohti had returned to East Turkestan July 2016, at the request of the Chinese government, and was immediately arrested and detained for “illegal activities” including teaching religion to Uyghur students in Egypt and attending a major religious conference in Saudi Arabia in 2015 without permission from Chinese authorities. He was initially released in January 2017, but was later rearrested in March and sentenced to 10 years in prison in May, though there has been no official announcement of his conviction or what charges he had faced.