The trial of the brave activist defending the victims of Xinjiang re-education camps is ready to start. Bitter Winter interviewed his lawyer and his wife
by Massimo Introvigne
Serikzhan Bilash, perhaps the most famous human rights activist in Kazakhstan, should face a criminal court on July 29, 2019, for his remarks about the horrors of the transformation through education camps in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kazakhs are detained, together with three million Uyghurs.
On July 19, Deputy Prosecutor Utegenov sent the file to the court. Almaty District Court No. 2 of Nur-Sultan will consider the case on July 29 at 11.30. When the national security arrested him, Bilash was accused of breaching article 174, 2nd Part. But at the end of the investigation, the charge was amended from a breach of article 174, 2nd part to a violation of article 174, 1st part. This carries a lesser penalty, as it punishes extremist speech without an actual threat of violence, but one can still go to jail for a term of two to seven years. Article 174 has been used in Kazakhstan against Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as against political dissidents.
Bitter Winter interviewed Bilash’ lawyer, Aiman Umarova, as well as the activist’s wife, Leila Adilzhan. “I believe that there is no crime there, Umarova said, because he said that he would promote an informational jihad against the treatment of Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uyghurs in the transformation through education camps in China. The evidence of the prosecution is an expertise and some so-called witnesses, among whom is poet and diplomat Mukhtar Shakhanov, who understood, or rather misunderstood, the statement as advocating for armed struggle. They said that these statements excite discord.”
“The witnesses, Bilash’s wife told Bitter Winter, are all people whom Serikzhan never met nor worked with. They may have listened to a speech by my husband but they do not really know him. Those who heard Seikzhan’s speech at the conference where he spoke and know him confirmed that there was no incitement to violence nor to ethnic hatred.”
A video was offered as evidence. But, Leila said, “the National Security seized and edited the original video and isolated the word ‘jihad,’ then give it to a national TV network. But our organization, Atajurt found the original video of the speech, as the operator had kept a copy of it, and posted on the Internet the full version of his speech. When you hear it, the context is clear. My husband advocated a jihad of information and truth rather than of violence.”
Leila shared with Bitter Winter the list of people who offered a testimony against Serikzhan, noting that some of them work closely with the Chinese Embassy. They are:
1) A. Turabayev (the person who wrote the first denunciation)
2) S. Muratkhan
3) E. Mellat
4) A. Mellat
5) U. Baitailak
6) K. Anikus
7) K. Mubarak
8) Mukhtar Shakhanov.
As for the expert, Akbarova, who confirmed that Serikzhan incited ethnic hatred, she is known for always supporting the prosecutors in case of “extremism.” “She is a person always ready to sign expertises supporting the prosecution and helping the National Security, no matter whether it is true or false,” Umarova said.