Village 'Too Frightened to Talk' After Kazakh Man Dies in Chinese Police Custody

A Kazakh herdsman drives cattle and sheep in Xinjiang's Yining county, June 20, 2017.

2017-09-08

An ethnic Kazakh man has died in police custody in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang after he went to a county police department to enquire about the whereabouts of two "disappeared" brothers, sources in the region told RFA on Friday.

Omirzakh Markhan, 36, died in the custody of Barköl Kazakh Autonomous County in Kumul prefecture on the Muslim feast-day of Eid al-Adha, a day of family reunions and feasting on slaughtered lambs and goats.

He was detained on Sept. 1  when he went to enquire about his missing brothers' status, and later died in police custody.

Kazakh sources in the area said Omirzakh Markhan was "beaten to death by police."

"He was beaten to death at the police department," one Kazakh resident said.

An officer who answered the phone at the Barköl county police department on Friday denied the allegation, however.

"Where are you calling from?" the officer said. "This never happened, never."

But a second Kazakh source confirmed the story, saying that Omirzakh Markhan was the elder brother who went to enquire after the younger ones.

"When they had detained the eldest and beaten him to death, they then took him back to his family," the source said. "They said they had unintentionally beaten him to death, and they brought his body and buried it soon after that."

The Markhan family was warned not to speak about the incident to anyone outside the family.

A Kazakh activist who recently visited the area where the death happened said nobody is willing to talk about it.

"Everyone in the village is frightened, because they aren't allowed to let this information get out," the activist said. "Anyone from out of town immediately draws attention to themselves."

Repeated calls to the Sarchek village and township government rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.

Many Kazakhs held

Chinese authorities are believed to be holding a number of ethnic minority Kazakhs for wearing "Islamic" clothing and praying, a practice forbidden by the ruling Chinese Communist Party on university campuses across the country.

Dozens of Kazakhs have also faced detention, intimidation, and the confiscation of their passports and other documents because they have family members living or studying overseas.

Ethnic minority Kazakh Muslims were among some 200 ethnic minority holders of Chinese passports targeted last month by Egypt's secret police in an operation activists said was requested by Beijing.

The 200 students, many of them religious students at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Islamic University, were detained in a crackdown that began on July 4, and were rounded up in restaurants or at their homes with others seized at airports as they tried to flee to safer countries, sources told RFA’s Uyghur Service at the time.

Official figures show that there are around 1.5 million Kazakhs in China, mostly concentrated in and around the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture.

China has previously welcomed Kazakhs who wished to relocate from Kazakhstan, but now many Kazakhs with Chinese nationality are heading back in the other direction, with their numbers peaking at nearly
38,000 in 2006.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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