Group Defending Rights Of Ethnic Kazakhs In China To Sue Kazakh Justice Ministry

NUR-SULTAN -- A group that defends the rights of ethnic Kazakhs in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang says it will sue Kazakhstan's Justice Ministry for repeatedly refusing to register the nongovernmental organization.

Erbol Dauletbek, a representative of the Atazhurt Eriktileri (Volunteers of the Fatherland) group, and the group's lawyer Aiman Omarova said on June 21 that the ministry has refused to register the organization four times.

They say that each time the group has tried to register, the ministry has cited technicalities and errors in the application documents submitted.

Omarova called those justifications "baseless," and said all of the application documents were filled out and prepared properly in two languages, Kazakh and Russian, in accordance with Kazakhstan's laws and regulations.

The group's leader, Serikzhan Bilash, has been under house arrest since March on charges of inciting ethnic discord after his organization staged several gatherings of ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang who have settled in Kazakhstan and complain that their relatives are being held in what the Chinese government calls "reeducation camps."

Bilash was born in Xinjiang, which borders Kazakhstan, and is a naturalized Kazakh citizen.

In February, an Almaty court found Bilash guilty of being the leader of an unregistered organization and fined him the equivalent of $670.

Atazhurt Eriktileri has been operating in Kazakhstan since 2017 without registration.

Bilash said in February that his group would continue to defend the rights of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang, and vowed to try again to register the group at the Justice Ministry.

The United Nations said last August that an estimated 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim indigenous people of Xinjiang were being held in what it described as "counterextremism centers" in northwestern China..

The UN also said millions more had been forced into internment camps.

China says that the facilities are "vocational education centers" aimed at helping people steer clear of terrorism and allowing them to be reintegrated into society.