Kazakhstan gained independence when the Soviet Union collapsed. It however remained a repressive dictatorship and its first leadership alternation, albeit organised in an undemocratic fashion, took place only in mid-2019. The new authorities have however pursued repression of basic civil and political rights.
The most recent victim of this system is Serikzhan Bilash, an activist who was been very vocal about China’s crimes against Turkic muslim minorities. Detained earlier this year on the demeaning charge of “sowing discord”, Bilash has been freed following a hearing on August 16.
However, the terms of his release are unambiguously meant to silence the activist. In an article in Human Rights Watch (HRW), Hugh Williamson argues that the terms of release of Bilash are a demonstration of Kazakhstan’s contempt of rights. According to Williamson,
When Serikzhan Bilash, a well-known rights activist in Kazakhstan, was freed from jail after a hearing late on August 16, 2019, he was very clear about the terms of his release: Cease all activism against China.
“It was that or seven years in jail. I had no choice,” said Bilash, who has exposed human rights violations against Turkic Muslim minorities, including ethnic Kazakhs in China’s Xinjiang region.
The harsh terms imposed by the Almaty court show how willing Kazakhstan is to repress the rights of courageous activists like Bilash. Under the conditions of his release he had to concede guilt to bogus incitement charges, give up peaceful activism, pay a $300 fine, and cannot leave Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, for three months.
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