RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Autor)
ZHARKENT, Kazakhstan -- A court in Kazakhstan has ruled that an ethnic-Kazakh man from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang who is on trial for illegally crossing the border will not be deported to China.
The court in the southeastern town of Zharkent announced its decision in the high-profile case on January 16.
Judge Dinara Quiqabaeva handed a six-month sentence in a labor camp to Tilek Tabarikuly for illegally entering the country, but allowed him to stay in Kazakhstan as his parents are naturalized Kazakh citizens.
The judge added that each day Tabarikuly spent in pretrial detention since October counts for two days in a labor camp, which makes him eligible to be released in less than two weeks.
Tabarikuly testified at his trial that he obtained a residence permit in Kazakhstan in 2016 and went to Xinjiang the following year for education-related purposes, but was stuck there as Chinese authorities confiscated his travel documents.
According to Tabarikuly, he fled China even though it meant illegally crossing the border because he feared he would be treated harshly by Chinese authorities and because his parents were waiting for him in Kazakhstan.
He also asked the court not to send him back to China.
In August 2018, the United Nations said an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and members of other mostly Muslim indigenous ethnic groups in Xinjiang were being held in "counterextremism centers."
The UN said millions more had been forced into reeducation camps. China denies that the facilities are internment camps.
Those conditions have prompted many ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang to cross the border illegally in fear of staying in China.
In December, the same court in Zharkent handed a suspended six-month prison sentence for illegal border-crossing to a Kazakh woman from Xinjiang, Qaisha Aqan, and allowed her to stay in Kazakhstan.
Aqan testified at her trial she had to cross illegally into Kazakhstan in May 2018 because local authorities in Xinjiang threatened to place her in an internment camp for Xinjiang's indigenous ethnic groups.
Two other ethnic-Kazakh men, Murager Alimuly and Qaster Musakhanuly, are currently on trial in the remote eastern Kazakh town of Zaisan for illegal border crossing.
The two say they fled Xinjiang fearing that they would be placed in so-called "reeducation camps" like many other representatives of Xinjiang's indigenous peoples.
Also in August 2018, a Kazakh court refused to extradite Sairagul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen who was wanted in China for illegal border crossing.
Sauytbay fled China in April and testified that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang were undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of "reeducation camps."
She added that Chinese authorities had forced her to train "political ideology" instructors for such reeducation camps. This, Sauytbay said, gave her access to secret documents about what she called a state program to "reeducate" Muslims from indigenous ethnic communities.
Although she was not extradited to China, Kazakh authorities did not allow Sauytbay to remain in Kazakhstan. She eventually was granted asylum in Sweden.
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, are the second-largest community in Xinjiang.
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