What is the situation like for human rights defenders, working on business-related human rights issues in Kazakhstan? Are there sufficient protections for HRDs?
In general, the situation with human rights defenders is the same as in the country on the whole: no one is protected; sometimes human rights defenders themselves need protection.
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?
In the banking sector it remained at the same level. I think it is due to the fact that there are a lot of borrowers with problem loans, and if human rights defenders begin to accumulate this force, it can become a threat. Therefore, in this area, there is not so much pressure on human rights defenders. Let’s say there are not so many activists in the political field, but in Kazakhstan there is a great number of borrowers with problem loans. Therefore, I think the authorities are acting carefully here: they interact, meet, work, help, at this moment the state is taking an unprecedented step, there is a write-off of troubled mortgage loans. Over the past 5 years, most likely it has worsened; there are many politically motivated cases.
Can you tell us more about your work on business and human rights?
Now my probation term is coming to an end, only 1 month left. Additional punishment restriction is not to conduct public activities for a period of 2 years. During the term, there was no particular pressure, because there was already a court decision, since I was already under restriction. At any moment, I could be sentenced to imprisonment for violation. If peopel come to us, we help to resolve the issue with banks. Everything takes place at the level of negotiations. The peak of my activity was in 2015-2018, when we organized rallies near banks, defended people’s housing from bailiffs, in brief, the struggle was tough.
Can you share the kinds of threats and attacks you have experienced as a result of it? How were companies involved in this?
Three or four years ago, I was often invited to talks by the Akimat – Department of Domestic Policy: they would say I shouldn’t engage in public activities or may end up jail.There were situations when my husband was threatened, they said, “Watch your wife if you want to see her alive”.
They threatened my mother – she had a bank loan, so they tried to manipulate through the bank. Then they began to put pressure on my eldest daughter: police planted her drugs (anasha). They kept her all night at the police station, did not allow her to make a phone call, they wrote strange SMS messages from her number, at the same time my husband and I were searching for her all night in hospitals and police stations, and the next morning they gave her the phone and said, “Invite only your mother”. And at that time I thought that I would go on the warpath for the sake of my child, if they did not stop putting pressure on our kids, then I would take drastic measures. After that, my family was left in peace, but I also had to calm down.