The activist who denounced Xinjiang transformation through education camps is free but had to agree to stop his public campaigns against the CCP.
by Massimo Introvigne
On August 16, 2019, the Court of Almaty, where his case had been transferred from the capital Nur-Sultan, accepted a plea bargain under which Serikzhan Bilash pleaded guilty with respect to the charge of having used inflammatory language in his campaign exposing the atrocities of the camps where the CCP has imprisoned three million Uyghurs and tens of thousands of ethnic Kazakhs. Bilash escaped detention and was only sentenced to a fine of the equivalent of $ 300, but had to agree to stop his campaign against the transformation through education camps, and not leave Almaty for three months.
It was a dramatic day in the court. Hundreds of Bilash supporters gathered, singing and shouting slogans. In the confusion, Bilash’ lawyer, Aiman Umarova, could not initially reach his client. When she did, she learned that he had been told that he can choose between seven years in jail and pleading guilty. Umarova refused to counter-sign the plea bargain, claiming she is convinced Bilash is totally innocent. Bilash found another attorney to counter-sign. He told his followers this was the only alternative to going to jail.
It is expected that while Bilash personally, under the term of the agreement reached with the court, will no longer speak in public, his organization Atajurt will continue its campaign criticizing the CCP and the Xinjiang camps, in Kazakhstan and abroad.
Bilash is now reunited with his wife and two children. In an audio message his wife, Leila Adilzhan, thanked all the supporters of her husband and singled out Bitter Winter for its “decisive contribution” to making Serikzhan a free man again. “Thousands in Kazakhstan read Bitter Winter, she said. And the international campaign persuaded the authorities that keeping Serikzhan under arrest would be a stain on Kazakhstan’s international image.”