Kazakhstan releases Xinjiang rights activist to house arrest

Serikjan Bilash. (Facebook pic)

AFP News
11 March 2019

An activist arrested following a relentless campaign for victims of China's repression in Xinjiang was released Monday by a Kazakh court to house arrest pending trial, his lawyer told AFP.

Serikjan Bilash, who has led an awareness drive centred on ethnic Kazakh victims of China's crackdown in the region, was arrested in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, and flown to the capital Astana on Sunday.

He was charged with inciting inter-ethnic hatred.

But a court in Astana ruled Monday to release him from detention and spend two months under house arrest, his lawyer Aiman Umarova told AFP by telephone. The terms of the ruling mean he will be unable to engage in activism.

The arrest of Bilash, a popular figure among Chinese-born repatriated Kazakhs, generated a whirlwind of media coverage.

His informal Ata-Jurt rights group had been a key source for international reporting on what Beijing calls vocational education centres but former detainees say are re-education camps.

Police on Sunday sealed Ata-Jurt's office, carting away computers and other equipment activists said contained data about victims of Chinese polices in Xinjiang, where around 1,500,000 ethnic Kazakhs are thought to live.

Activists told AFP that police had promised them the key to the office that has hosted regular press events themed on Xinjiang but had so far refused to give it to them.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan, which shares a border with the Xinjiang province, has been on diplomatic tiptoes since major trading partner China began to forcibly send ethnic Kazakhs to internment camps under its anti-extremism policy.

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