On January 16, a court in Zharkent, Kazakhstan declined to deport a man who had been on trial for illegally crossing the border from China’s Xinjiang. The case is yet another in a series of trials of ethnic Kazakhs who have fled China for Kazakhstan only to face possible deportation back into Beijing’s grip.
Tilek Tabarikuly was given a six-month sentence in a labor camp, with the judge — Dinara Quiqabaeva — ruling that each day he spent in pre-trial detention would count for two days in the labor camp. That makes Tabarikuly eligible for release in less than two weeks, given that he’s been in detention since October 22. He will also have to pay a fine of 25,000 tenge, about $65.
The prosecutor had sought a sentence which included expulsion from Kazakhstan.
As RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, known locally as Radio Azattyk, reported, according to the indictment Tabarikuly entered Kazakhstan through the Khorgos customs post in May 2018. Tabarikuly’s parents are naturalized Kazakh citizens and he had obtained a residence permit in Kazakhstan in 2016. He traveled to China in December 2017 and Chinese authorities seized his passport, making it all-but-impossible for him to return to Kazakhstan legally.
In court, Tabarikuly said that Chinese authorities questioned him, asking if he received any religious education or had criminal connections. He said he was threatened with internment. Tabarikuly lived with his brother, who reportedly also had his passport seized. Concerned about his parents in Kazakhstan, Tabarikuly decided to slip across the border among tourists at the busy Khorgos crossing.
Tabarikuly’s family connections in Kazakhstan played a role in the court’s decision not to deport him. In other, similar cases, such ties have played a role as well.
For example, the same court (although a different judge) in Zharkent ruled that Qaisha Aqan, an ethnic Kazakh woman from Xinjiang, would not be deported at the conclusion of her trial in late December 2019. Aqan, who is married to a Kazakh national, was given a six-month sentence. Sayragul Sauytbay, one of the first and arguably the most well-known such case, had a husband and children who were already naturalized Kazakh citizens. Sauytbay was unable to secure asylum in Kazakhstan — perhaps a bridge too far for Nur-Sultan in defying Beijing — but she wasn’t deported and eventually left for asylum in Sweden.
These many cross-border families are the product of both better times along the border and a post-independence Kazakh government initiative which called on the ethnic Kazakh diaspora to return. This reality makes the prospect of deportation a sensitive trigger-point: deporting an ethnic Kazakh could very well feed public anger at the state. From other reports it appears that Beijing is, indeed, seeking the deportation of individuals in Kazakhstan — but so far it looks like Nur-Sultan has not acquiesced to such demands when it comes to ethnic Kazakhs, at least.