‘Our Government Doesn’t Want to Spoil Relations with China’

Serikzhan Bilash attends a hearing in Nur-Sultant on June 7. Photo: RFE/RL

REID STANDISH
Sep 03, 2019 1:00 AM ET

ALMATY, Kazakhstan—In early March, Serikzhan Bilash, a Kazakh activist documenting and advocating for Muslims caught up in an immense internment-camp system in China, was taken from his hotel room by security services and arrested. Late on August 16, after being under house arrest for five months, he was unexpectedly freed.

Kazakhstan, the Central Asian country of 18 million that shares a 1,100-mile border with China, has become an unlikely window into Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim minorities. In recent years, the Chinese government has built the world’s most advanced surveillance state in Xinjiang, the western region bordering Central Asia. Bolstered by public video surveillance, regular scans of digital devices, and coded ID cards used to track the movements of their holder, the Chinese Communist Party has erected a massive internment program targeting the Muslim population, especially Uighurs, but also Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities. According to the U.S. State Department, 800,000 to 2 million people, or roughly 15 percent of Xinjiang’s Muslim population, have been incarcerated in the sprawling camp network.

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