Kazakhstan: Xinjiang rights movement registered, but in neutered form

A man showing photos of his missing relatives. (Photo: Ata-Jurt)

Darkhan Umirbekov
Sep 30, 2019

An activist group in Kazakhstan that has led the charge in spotlighting the mass detention of ethnic Kazakhs in western China has after several unsuccessful attempts been registered by the authorities.

Opinions are divided, however, about whether the government’s September 24 decision to grant Ata-Jurt permission to operate was capitulation to public demand or a sign that the group has been rendered toothless.

Ata-Jurt was launched in spring 2017 and quickly became a prominent campaigner against China’s anti-Muslim crackdown in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Its approach hinged heavily on the meticulous collection of testimonials of former detainees of Chinese prison camps and their relatives. Kazakhs and Uyghurs, the main ethnic group in Xinjiang, who had lost touch with relatives in China lined up to provide their written complaints. Even Kyrgyz who had lost faith in their own government to address the problem traveled to Almaty to meet with the activists.

For the government in Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana), the movement proved a headache. Tolerating it risked irking Beijing, an important economic partner, while cracking down stood to rile nationalist sentiment.