Chinese-born Kazakh activist Bekzat Maxutkanuly is mulling the formation of a political party to challenge Beijing.
Worried over rumblings of a brewing crackdown across the border in China’s Xinjiang region, Maxutkanuly is preparing to drive from village to village across his country’s vast hinterlands to gather support for himself.
The 46-year-old told Associated Press that ”I never had plans to engage in politics but then I started to realize the situation in Xinjiang was a huge problem, one that wouldn’t blow over in a year or two.”
Although Beijing holds sway among its governments China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang has alienated many people in Central Asia.
Thousands of Kazakhs were abducted by authorities along with Uyghurs when the arrests in Xinjiang began.
After they were in a vast network of camps and prisons, Kazakhstan’s government pleaded with Beijing to release them.
Despite the incident, Kazakhstan abstained from UN votes on whether to condemn or support China’s policies in Xinjiang.
Calling Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Kazakhstan “humiliating,” Maxutkanuly pointed out that Beijing is a major investor in the country’s oil and gas industries and loans billions of dollars to build railroads and highways.
According to Maxutkanuly, he was born in a small Kazakh village on China’s western frontier and was bullied relentlessly for his halting Mandarin.
Leaving behind a country they felt never truly welcomed them, his family moved to Kazakhstan in the late 1990s.
When his friends and relatives back in Xinjiang stopped calling and texting, he felt something was amiss and this led to his political awakening.
After becoming aware of growing accounts of brutality and mass detentions in the region, Maxutkanuly joined activist Serikzhan Bilash and later became the chief of an unregistered organisation called Atajurt.
In order to draw the world’s attention to Xinjiang, Maxutkanuly organised several petitions and news conferences.
Fueled by suspicions of spies and fear of the state, the Chinese-born Kazakh community is riven with divisions.
Hundreds were killed in Kazakhstan when protests turned violent and demonstrators smashed cars and set buildings on fire.
(With inputs from agencies)
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