A Kazakh court has decided against deporting a Chinese woman of Kazakh descent back to China, where her lawyers say she faces a risk of torture after working at a secretive internment centre in China’s western region of Xinjiang.
Sayragul Sauytbay will be allowed to remain in Kazakhstan but will be given a suspended sentence of six months after having been found guilty of crossing the border illegally into Kazakhstan. She was granted asylum in Kazakhstan in June.
The court case drew widespread attention in Kazakhstan, where Ms Sauytbay’s testimony provided the first public insight into a widespread network of extra-legal internment centres that China has built to imprison at least half a million Chinese citizens in Xinjiang.
In April, Ms Sauytbay, a Kazakh with Chinese citizenship, fled China to Kazakhstan, where her husband and two young children are citizens.
A teacher by training, Ms Sauytbay said she was forced to work as a Chinese history teacher for prisoners at an internment centre build for nearly 2,500 Chinese Kazakhs. In her testimony she said details about the operations of internment centres were classified as state secrets and their disclosure was punishable by execution.
For decades, ethnic Kazakhs crossed relatively freely between China and Kazakhstan. But since China’s security crackdown began in 2016, at least 10 Kazakh citizens have been detained in Xinjiang.
Kazakh authorities detained Ms Sauytbay on May 21 for illegally crossing the border, a charge she has admitted to. However, she testified that she fled China without proper documentation because she feared for her life.