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.