His wife’s picket at the Chinese consulate in Almaty got so much attention that the CCP decided to give up, ad set her husband free after 17 years of detention.
by Leila Adilzhan
Those who insist that picketing and protesting outside Chinese embassies and consulates is a waste of time were proved wrong last week in Kazakhstan.
An ethnic Kazakh woman from Xinjiang, Farida (also spelled Paryda) Kabylbek, who had been picketing the Chinese consulate in Almaty, achieved the return of her husband Rakhizhan (also spelled Rahizhan) Zeinolla. A resident of Almaty, Farida Kabylbek, not only protested in front of the Chinese Consulate in her home city, but also picketed the Chinese General Consulate in Nur-Sultan.
On April 9, 2021, she and her relatives and friends finally met her husband at the Almaty airport. The aircraft arrived from the Chinese city of Chengdu.
This is the story of an amazing woman, whose husband was arrested without evidence when he went to Xinjiang from Kazakhstan, and kept in jail for 13 years. After this, he was put into a camp, then remained under house arrest. And only 17 years after his arrest was he able to reunite with his family.
57-year-old Rakhizhan Zeinolla, an ethnic Kazakh from Xinjiang, moved to Kazakhstan in 2000 with his wife Farida Kabylbek and two children, a boy and a girl. The family moved from a village called Karabuka, in the Bortala region of Xinjiang, to the Almaty region. Rakhizhan Zeinolla never worked in a government structure, either in China or in Kazakhstan. He was a simple merchant.
In 2004, Rakhizhan Zeinolla went to Xinjiang to see his relatives, and was promptly arrested by the Chinese police. At first, he was suspected of “transporting people from China to Kazakhstan,” then he was accused of “espionage” as a “Kazakhstani spy,” and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Farida Kabylbek told Bitter Winter that these were trumped-up charges. “About twenty young people expressed a desire to study in Kazakhstan, and he helped them with paperwork. This is his only ‘crime.’ The police could have at least told him what the evidence of his ‘espionage’ was, but they didn’t.”
Rakhizhan’s two children, who were 14 and 5 years old at the time of their father’s arrest, are now adults. His son already has his own family and four children.
Rakhizhan Zeinolla had a green card from Kazakhstan and Chinese passport. He decided to use his Chinese passport for the last time and visit his relatives. He knew that, after having obtained the citizenship of Kazakhstan, as he planned, to do he would need a visa to travel to China.
After his arrest, Farida Kabylbek wrote a statement to the Kazakhstan’s Migration Police Department. The response of the Migration Police Department (part of the Department of Internal Affairs) for the Almaty region, came to Farida on June 22, 2013, and included the statement that “Zeinolla Rakhizhan, born in 1963, Kazakh, is considered a citizen of Kazakhstan according to the decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan No. 1302 dated March 12, 2004.”
A written response from the National Security Committee, given to Farida Kabylbek in 2009, had also stated that Rakhizhan Zeinolla was a citizen of Kazakhstan. The National Security Committee’s letter said: “According to the decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan No. 1302 dated March 12, 2004, R. Zeinolla was accepted into the citizenship of Kazakhstan. This means that his rights and interests are protected by the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In view of the fact that your spouse is currently in China, the issues of protecting his rights and interests are within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.”
On May 15, 2016, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, in response to Farida Kabylbek’s appeal to assist in the return of her husband, wrote that, “if the General Prosecutor’s Department of Kazakhstan receives the relevant documents on [his] serving a sentence, they will be sent to China through diplomatic channels.” In May of the same year, the General Prosecutor’s Department of Kazakhstan reported that “according to the Chinese authorities’ response given in December 2015, the Chinese Prison Monitoring Bureau does not have any information about Rakhizhan Zeinolla.”
When there were no results from the authorities, in 2017 Farida Kabylbek for the first time came to the Atajurt Advocacy group which was led by Serikzhan Bilash. The next day, Serikzhan Bilash held a large press conference with Farida Kabylbek and Zhumadan Zharkynbek whose father had also been arrested without any evidence. So, the Atajurt Advocacy group started to work, and collected first-hand facts about political concentration camps in Xinjiang.
Farida Kabylbek sent a request again to the Government. The Consular Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, in response to her appeal dated June 22, 2019, replied that “in connection with the case of Rakhizhan Zeinolla, the department sent an official note to the Chinese Embassy in Nur-Sultan.”
The woman, whose patience was wearing thin, then decided to picket in front of the Chinese Consulate in Almaty. But nobody came out from the Consulate to listen to her request. She did not stop, and went to the capital city Nur-Sultan where she picketed in front of the General Consulate of China. One day after she started her protest in Nur-Sultan, she was invited to the Consulate for a meeting. She previously informed the public opinion through a live stream that she was going into the Consulate. When she entered the Consulate, they asked her, “Don’t you think that your act will harm you when we conquer the Kazakhstan territory?” and abused her verbally in other ways. She was outraged, as were her friends when she heard of the incident, but she did not stop her picket. She was unstoppable and continued for another three months.
“He was detained without a reason and an evidence, sentenced to thirteen years in prison as a ‘spy,’ locked up in prison. As if that was not enough, they sent him to a transformation through education camp for a year and a half. After this, he was under house arrest. What a horror! Why isn’t he released? Let China return him to Kazakhstan!” shouted Farida on February 8, standing with a poster in front of the Chinese Consulate in Almaty.
She kept generating negative publicity for the Chinese diplomats in Kazakhstan, and finally something happened. Her husband was liberated, and allowed to fly from Urumqi to Chengdu on April 6, because only from Chengdu there is a flight to Almaty.
The family had not seen Rakhizhan Zeinolla for 6,140 days. In 2004, an innocent man was jailed for trumped-up reasons. Of course, “China did not admit any wrongdoing, but we believe that Rakhizhan Zeinolla was also released due to pressure from international human rights organizations and other democratic institutions. This suggests that the sanctions against China are working. We hope that our other brothers and sisters will soon find freedom and reunite with their families,” said Farida Kabylbek.
Bitter Winter also published Farida Kabylbek’s and other picketing women’s stories more than once. “Our family, Farida told us, would like to express our deepest gratitude to the staff of Bitter Winter for their support and help in Rakhizhan’s case.”