In a voice message, Serikzhan Bilash, arrested for reporting on China’s mistreatment of Kazakhs, discloses the details of his detention.
Serikzhan Bilash, the leader of Atajurt – a human rights NGO in Kazakhstan – is under house arrest pending trial, after his arrest on March 10 for “inciting ethnic hatred.” Serikzhan gathers information through people in Kazakhstan about their ethnic relatives persecuted in China and releases this information to international human rights organizations. Through his attorney, he stated last week that he had been threatened because he reports on the persecution of the Kazakh minority in China, and was forced to give confessions on video.
The Kazakhstan government is focusing on Serikzhan’s alleged statements calling for “jihad against Chinese,” and they provided a video of an address he made to a public gathering in February that they say supports their case. Serikzhan, however, claims the comments in the video are taken out of context.
Another Kazakhstan activist, Erkin Azat, provided Bitter Winter with a voice message from Serikzhan, recorded while under house arrest. In the message, Serikzhan said that two of the people who participated in his arrest refused to identify themselves, and coerced him into filming a video declaring his guilt. He was also forced to reject his lawyer Aiman Umarova and was required to accept a lawyer assigned to him by the government. He was told, “We are the law. If we make you go to court, then you will go to court. If we let you be free, then you will be free.”
Serikzhan reported that Kazakh officials forced him to sign several documents, but he does not know how they are going to be used. He was threatened with ten years in prison if he didn’t cooperate. “They wanted me to believe that if I did as they asked, I would not be sent to court,” Serikzhan said in the voice message. “Just say that you confess to your crime and want the court procedures to be simplified, and we will release you as soon as possible. You will be released before March 31. However, you can no longer participate in Sino-Kazakh issues. Some of your rights will be restricted, but you won’t go to prison, and you won’t be sentenced.”
Serikzhan said that to protect his safety, he recorded a voice message and sent it to his wife. He emphasized that he did not call upon anyone “to participate in jihad.” He said, “I just collected information through media reports and information provided by people whose relatives are being persecuted in China. I provided the relevant international human rights bodies with the detailed information about detainees in Xinjiang, including where the persecuted persons are held, and when they were arrested.”
At the end of the video message, Serikzhan states, “I love my wife and my two sons. I love my Kazakh ethnicity. I love my country of Kazakhstan. I like peace. I’m not someone who destroys national unity.”
The following is a translation of Serikzhan Bilash’s voice message (supplied by Erkin Azat):
It is currently 11:21 p.m. on the night of March 13, 2019. I was arrested in Almaty on the morning of the 10th. Two of the people who arrested me never showed me their credentials. These two people deceived, intimidated, and lured me. I was forced to record two or three videos. In one video, they demanded that I oppose Ablyazov. [Mukhtar Ablyazov is a former chairman of Bank Turan Alem in Kazakhstan and the founder of the political party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. Actually, I don’t know Ablyazov. I’ve participated in politics, but I oppose Ablyazov’s slogans calling on people to march. I don’t want a bloody conflict to occur. I was forced to make this video.
For the second video, they demanded that I refuse my lawyer Aiman Umarova. They forced me to say that I required the state to provide me with a lawyer. I was forced to say that I refuse my lawyer Aiman Umarova. They noted that Aiman Umarova is one of Ablyazov’s people. I was forced to film this video.
During the filming of the third video, a man named Buliate Shiliashiov was present. I can remember his family name because the pronunciation of Shiliashiov is similar to that of my own family name Beliyashi. This person is the superior of my investigating officer, M·Baimaganbetov. They told me to submit an application to investigating officer Baimaganbetov requesting simplification of the court procedures and admitting to my guilt. I was cooperating with the investigation, so I filed an application seeking that my punishment be reduced. I was forced to sign this document, too. They wanted me to believe that if I did as they asked, I would not be sent to court. They also said that if I went to court, I would be sentenced to ten years in prison. They told me to look at the legal terms and provisions. In fact, I didn’t understand any of them. I didn’t know what they were for. In this way, they forced me to sign the documents and told me, “Just say that you confess to your crime and want the court procedures to be simplified, and we will release you as soon as possible. You will be released prior to March 31. However, you can no longer participate in Sino–Kazakh issues. Some of your rights will be restricted, but you won’t go to prison and you won’t be sentenced.”
I was forced to sign several documents, and there were also some application-like documents that seemed to be for the court. There were a lot of blank spaces, but they still made me sign them.
I’m scared of the several videos filmed about Ablyazov now. They filmed them three or four times. These videos might be altered or edited. I’m worried that they will say that I’m a supporter of Ablyazov. The truth is that I oppose Ablyazov’s slogans calling on the people to march. I said this in my remarks in earlier videos.
My name is Serikzhan. These people never showed me their credentials, but when they arrived, the police officer responsible for No. 6 Zhangawozen Street told them to come in. I reckon that they are KGB [the State Security Bureau] operatives.
Because I was afraid, I made this voice recording at 11:24 p.m. I asked them, “According to the court ruling, during my two months under house arrest, I’m not allowed to shoot videos or upload them online.” They said, “We are the law. If we make you go to court, then you will go to court. If we let you be free, then you will be free.”
They required me to refuse lawyer Aiman Umarova and took a video of me saying that. In fact, I had accepted Aiman Umarova as my lawyer. I never refused to have her as my lawyer. I never pleaded guilty. I didn’t commit any crime. I never called on anyone to participate in jihad. I just collected information through media reports and information provided by people whose relatives are being persecuted in China. I submitted the relevant international human rights bodies with the detailed information about detainees in Xinjiang, including where the persecuted persons are held, and when they were arrested. As I have said, this is news jihad. I have never undermined national unity. I have posted at least 40 to 50 video speeches advising the public not to march or assemble. I have been saying this for three years. Therefore, for safety reasons, I, Serikzhan, sent this voice message to my wife. I love my wife and my two sons. I love my Kazakh ethnicity. I love my country of Kazakhstan. I like peace. I’m not someone who destroys national unity. I merely gathered information through the people in Kazakhstan about my compatriots who are being persecuted and released this information to international human rights organizations. The information I’m talking about is jihad. Every Muslim knows the meaning of jihad. That’s all I have to say.
Reported by Li Pei