AP NEWS

Woman who told of Chinese internment camps headed to Sweden

June 3, 2019
In this Sunday, June 2, 2019 photo taken by Aiman Umarova, Sayragul Sauytbay, left, Uali Sylam, her husband, right, and two children pose for a photo at an airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Sunday, June 2, 2019. The lawyer for a Chinese woman who attracted international attention after fleeing to Kazakhstan and speaking about working in Chinese internment camps says she has left the country for Sweden, where she expects to get political asylum. (Aiman Umarova via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — The lawyer for a Chinese woman who attracted international attention after she fled to Kazakhstan and spoke publicly about working in Chinese internment camps says his client has left for Sweden, where she expects to get political asylum.

Sayragul Sauytbay had been in Kazakhstan for more than a year, though authorities in the Central Asian country refused to grant her asylum.

Lawyer Aiman Umarova told The Associated Press that Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh, was issued an alien’s passport by Sweden. Umarova said Sauytbay and her husband and two children, who are Kazakh citizens, flew out of Kazakhstan’s principal city, Almaty, on Monday.

An estimated 1 million Muslim Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities are believed to be held in Chinese internment camps.

Sauytbay testified last year that she was forced to work in an indoctrination camp. She had been tried for illegally crossing into Kazakhstan and given a six-month suspended sentence.

China has denied the existence of re-education camps but has on occasion said authorities provide vocational training to minor criminals in the region. The internment camps have drawn criticism from the U.S. and a U.N. panel.

The case highlights the delicate position that Kazakhstan finds itself at a time of growing reliance on Chinese investment as well as mounting pressure from the public to protect fellow Kazakhs in China’s western regions.

In recent years, Kazakhstan has played an increasingly prominent role in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature, trillion-dollar foreign policy and infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road Initiative, with the transit hub of Khorgos playing a key role for the movement of goods.

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