What is the situation like for human rights defenders, working on business-related human rights issues in Kazakhstan? Are there sufficient protections for HRDs?
Taking into account the situation in general, human rights defenders are not protected, just like ordinary citizens. Judging by the latest world statistics, Kazakhstan is among those close to the authoritarian regime. Therefore, human rights defenders are not protected in our country.
What are the greatest risks human rights defenders are currently facing? Has the situation improved or worsened over the last five years? Has it changed during COVID-19, and if so how?
Human rights defenders, taking into account the fact that they somehow belong to certain public associations, may face various obstacles. As the recent examples with Echo, Yerkindik Kanaty, the Bureau for Human Rights and so on have shown, government agencies can find fault with anything: reporting, sanitary standards.Over the past five years, the situation has only worsened. It seems that we do not receive frank reprisals, but at the same time we see how human rights defenders are legally driven more and more into a dead end. In general, not only with human rights defenders, the authorities used the pandemic exclusively to their advantage.
They got the maximum benefit they could get. By moving everything to online format, the same lawsuits, the same tricks used by officials, they deprived people of the opportunity to defend others and defend themselves. From my own experience, I will say that during an online court hearing you may not be heard, your question may not be answered, you may be disconnected, allegedly due to technical problems, and during this time they can come up with a version and an answer. It also relates to statements. A statement to police was written through the Kamkor website. No reply was received within the prescribed fifteen days. Then we went to the police department. It’s good that they’ve begun accepting visitors now. Otherwise, you can’t protect yourself or protect others because everywhere they refer to quarantine. Everything is online. And when it’s online, they can pretend that there is nothing. When it is to their benefit, we have a pandemic, and when it is not to their benefit, there is no pandemic.
Can you tell us more about your work on business and human rights?
Now we are trying to get on platforms for discussing bills. For example, the project “Prevention of Domestic Violence”, projects of public control. Basically, I deal with issues of excessive spending of the state budget of government agencies and quasi-government sector.
Can you share the kinds of threats and attacks you have experienced as a result of it? How were companies involved in this?
Two of the three criminal cases brought against me involve clashes with large companies. One of them, from the quasi-government sector, is Otbasy Bank, previously called ZhilStroySberBank, and the second is BI Group, represented by Chairman Rakhimbaev.What concerns ZhilStroySberBank [now Otbasy bank], I analyzed public procurement: why some purchases are made from one source, issues of excessive spending. I took information from open sources. A criminal case was opened against me on April 20, 2020 for disseminating deliberately false information during the state of emergency.
At the moment, I have the status of a witness with the right to defense, searches were carried out, equipment was seized, and so on. The case is now on hold.
Also, during the emergency, when the construction of modular hospitals began, I made a repost from the Telegram channel. I was interested in the price since these are modular hospitals. I reposted a message by the BI Group Chairman, Aydin Rakhimbaev, so that my subscribers could see the person promises honesty and transparency. In response, they start a criminal case against me: they confiscate my phone, conduct an interrogation and so on. This case is currently on hold, but it has not been closed.
Yesterday and the day before yesterday, posts were published on some fake pages encouraging to beat and lynch me and my colleagues. Society is being actively engaged in violence against me, my comrades-in-arms. It has already come to this. We try not to answer unfamiliar numbers, do not go out in the dark. This has been happening for the last year and a half. There is a personal interest of the Chairman of Otbasy Bank, because a lot of money is involved. After the reorganization from ZhilStroySberBank to Otbasy Bank, they were allocated about 889 billion tenge in the first tranche.