ALMATY (Reuters) – A court in Kazakhstan on Wednesday freed a former Chinese re-education camp worker who had fled China to reunite with her family in the Central Asian nation, local news agency Tengrinews.kz reported.
The family of Sairagul Sauytbai, an ethnic Kazakh from China’s Xinjiang province, has said she could face harsh punishment for speaking out about the camps if the Astana government sent her back to China.
Her case highlights the Astana government’s delicate situation as it seeks to protect ethnic Kazakhs while maintaining good relations with Beijing, a major investor.
The Chinese government has refused to comment on reports of mass detention in Xinjiang which has significant Uighur and Kazakh populations and where Beijing has for years struggled with a separatist movement.
Sauytbai’s husband, Islam Aliuly, and their two children have obtained Kazakh citizenship, but she has been unable to do the same because, according to her husband, her documents had been taken away by the authorities.
This year, Sauytbai, a pre-school teacher, was ordered to take on additional work at a so-called political re-education camp in Xinjiang, her husband told Reuters in June.
Aliuly, the husband, said she was appalled by what she saw at the camp and started fearing she would eventually end up there as an inmate, too, which was why she decided to flee.
Kazakh security forces detained Sauytbai in May after she crossed the border illegally – a charge to which she pleaded guilty in court while asking not be sent back to China.
On Wednesday, a court in the town of Zharkent in southeastern Kazakhstan, close to the Chinese border, gave Sauytbai a suspended six-month sentence, effectively setting her free and deciding against deportation.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Richard Balmforth)