Published: 2020-10-24 18:21
Last Updated: 2021-07-19 12:43
For three years, Bikamal Kakan had not heard any official news of the fate of her husband, who had disappeared in Xinjiang.
But last June, she learned that he was serving a nine-year prison sentence in China for "extremism."
Kakin feared that her husband, Adel Ghazi Mukai, 47, would be the victim of a widespread crackdown on Muslim minorities in western China, especially the Uyghurs and Kazakhs. But she hoped he was in a rehab camp.
"I am very scared. The Chinese will destroy him in prison," said the 44-year-old mother, with tears streaming down her cheeks as she embraced her two daughters, to France.
China denies any human rights violation in Xinjiang, where, according to specialized non-governmental organizations, accusations of separatism or extremism are being brought against more than a million people.
Beijing maintains that its vast network of detention centers are "vocational training" bodies on the basis of voluntary attendance.
But in neighboring Kazakhstan, there are increasing reports of families, such as the Bikamal Kakin, that their relatives are in fact detained.
Bikamal and her husband, who used to work as an employee in the oil sector, left Xinjiang in 2017. Bikamal Kakan, who was pregnant at the time, heard that Chinese authorities were forcing minority women to have abortions.
In May 2017, Adel Ghazi Moqai was forced to return to China, after his former colleagues warned him that his pension, an important source of income, could be suspended if he did not attend a business meeting.
And he has since disappeared. Bikamal Kakan found herself alone with two young girls. She began speaking openly about her ordeal. An American newspaper published an interview with her and reprinted it by the US Embassy in Kazakhstan.
Finally, in June, she got new information.
In response to the contents of the interview, the Chinese ambassador accredited to Kazakhstan, Zhang Xiao, revealed to the media that Adil Ghazi Moqai had been sentenced to nine years imprisonment for "extremism.”
In a statement to the Chinese newspaper, the Global Times, the diplomat criticized Bikamal's account, which he said was "full of lies."
This mother, who lives in extreme poverty in Uzhinagash, sixty kilometers from Almaty, the most prominent city in Kazakhstan, cannot believe the accusation against her husband.
She believes that his "only crime" is that he belongs to the Kazakh Muslim minority, which is a minority that speaks the Turkish language like the Uyghurs.
The official reasons for his conviction are still unknown, but his travel to Kazakhstan appears to have angered the authorities.
Despite its close ties with Beijing, Kazakhstan has become a haven for activists denouncing the repression in Xinjiang. Atagurt, a human rights organization, publishes hundreds of testimonies of people who have lost contact with their relatives.
The organization was not able to officially register under pressure from the Kazakh government, and one of its leaders nearly went to prison. Many believe that her activism helped move Beijing.
Last year, the Kazakh authorities announced that China had allowed hundreds of people to return to their families in Kazakhstan.
But researcher Muhammad Kasikji of the University of Arizona told AFP that "hundreds of thousands" of others have been sentenced to prison terms.
In February, after demonstrating in front of the Chinese consulate in Almaty and publishing his testimony, Pipolat Konpolat learned that his brother, 29-year-old Pomurat Naurispek, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for "inciting ethnic hatred".
A Chinese diplomat told him the conviction, dating back to 2018, was for posting messages on the Internet six years ago. But Pepolat received a warning that if he continued to protest it could have negative consequences for his detained brother.
AFP has not received a response from the Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan to its questions.
Today, Pipolat Konpolat regrets that he waited nearly a year before publicly demanding the release of his brother.
But he says that at the time they were optimistic as "rumors circulated that the maximum sentence in the camp would be one year."