Serikzhan Bilash is an ethnic Kazakh who originally came from China’s western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and moved to Kazakhstan where he obtained citizenship and, in 2017, founded the group Atajurt Eriktileri (Volunteers of the Fatherland).
Shedding Light On Abuses
The organization has been instrumental in shedding light on the abuses against ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and others in Xinjiang at the hands of Chinese authorities in the so-called reeducation camps set up by Beijing.
Bilash’s work has complicated the Kazakh government’s relations with its large eastern neighbor, the more so because China has become a leading investor in Kazakhstan and one of the country’s main trading partners.
Kazakh authorities already moved to mute Bilash and his group when a splinter faction of Atajurt Eriktileri that was much less critical of China was registered in September 2019.
Bilash continued his group’s work, slightly altering its name to Naghiz Atajurt Eriktileri (the Authentic Volunteers of the Fatherland) in an effort to differentiate itself from the former group taken over by the government.
On April 25, RFE/RL received a message from Bilash saying he was under investigation for inciting social, national, tribal, racial, class, or religious hatred, the same charge he was on trial for during 2019 and eventually convicted, but fined only the equivalent of some $300 and freed.
On April 29, RFE/RL reported that the registered faction of Atajurt Eriktileri was filing a lawsuit against Bilash’s faction, charging that his group was using emblems, symbols, names, and other property that belong to the registered Atajurt Eriktileri.
Bilash was summoned for questioning again.
There were concerns by many in some countries that as authorities introduced measures to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus, they might also use the opportunity to clamp down on dissent and neutralize perceived threats.
Many would now point to Kazakhstan as an example of this fear being put in practice.