ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Eight Kazakhs, mainly women, have picketed outside the Chinese Consulate in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, to demand the release of their relatives in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
The demonstrators on February 9 were holding pictures of their relatives, who they say are either being kept in prisons and reeducation camps in Xinjiang or not allowed to travel to Kazakhstan to join their families.
The picketers also held up posters in Kazakh, English, and Chinese demanding the release of their loved ones.
“Children deprived of fathers! Mothers deprived of sons! Wives deprived of husbands! Stop China-imposed genocide!” the demonstrators chanted.
One of the protesters, wheelchair-bound, 74-year-old Sarqytkhan Qyzyrkhanqyzy, told RFE/RL that her son, who has a residence permit in Kazakhstan, had been not allowed to return to Almaty by the Chinese authorities for four years and there was no information about his current whereabouts in Xinjiang.
Three women, who picketed the consulate the day before, were also among the February 9 demonstrators.
An Almaty city official came to the site and told the demonstrators that their demonstration was illegal, but they refused to leave until the consulate’s security officers forced the picketers and journalists covering the event away from the site.
Police were nearby but did not intervene.
Many similar protests have taken place in Kazakhstan in recent years, with demonstrators demanding the Kazakh authorities officially intervene in the situation faced by ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.
The U.S. State Department has said as many as 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of Xinjiang’s other indigenous, mostly Muslim, ethnic groups have been taken to detention centers.
China denies that the facilities are internment camps.
People who have fled the province say that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang are undergoing “political indoctrination” at a network of facilities known officially as reeducation camps.
Kazakhs are the second-largest Turkic-speaking indigenous community in Xinjiang after Uyghurs. The region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans. Han, China’s largest ethnicity, is the second-largest community in Xinjiang.