KAZAKHSTAN: Search of the Belgian and Kazakh Authorities at the home of the refugee lawyer Botagoz Jardemalie
On the 1st October 2019, Belgian police carried out a search without a warrant at the home of the human rights lawyer and Kazakh refugee in Belgium, Botagoz Jardemalie.
According to information received, the Belgian authorities have responded to a request for judicial cooperation with the Kazakhstan concerning the political refugee Botagoz Jardemalie, who was granted refugee status in 2013.
The search tooks place at her apartment while the lawyer was away and the police did not present any warrants to her family members who were present and who had requested one. In addition, the police were accompanied during the search of two Kazakh officials (a magistrate and a member of the anti-corruption services) even though the lawyer had obtained refugee status in Belgium, due to the persecution of the Kazakh regime against her.
Many computer tools and confidential files were seized during this search, as well as data covered by professional secrecy in connection with her activities as a lawyer. The access codes entered, in particular to mailboxes, Facebook, Instagram or other social networks, have already been used to intrude into Ms. Jardemalie’s mailboxes.
These seizures could have serious repercussions on the safety of the lawyer and her clients since her couriers contained privileged and confidential communications and sensitive information about her clients. The seizures could also have consequences for the safety of his brother, Iskander Yerimbetov, who has been held in political detention in Kazakhstan since the 13th of November 2017. Allegations of ill-treatment and torture against him have been reported and highlighted by several human rights organizations. On November 20th 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Mr. Yerimbetov’s detention was arbitrary and illegal, in violation of articles 9 (right to liberty and security of the person) and 14 (right to a fair trial) of the Covenant, and requested his immediate release (link to the decision). Mr. Yerimbetov has also been internationally recognized as a political prisoner, notably by the European Parliament and the US State Department.
At a hearing on November 6th 2019, the Minister of Justice, Koes Geens, was able to explain a number of points raised by members of the Belgian Federal Parliament. According to him, this judicial cooperation is based on the United Nations Conventions against Organized Crime and Corruption, as well as the European Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime, all ratified by Belgium and Kazakhstan. In the light of these texts, the search was then authorized by the investigating judge.
According to the Minister of Justice, mutual legal assistance was granted to collect evidence in a multi-billion dollar misappropriation case to which the Kazakh lawyer would be linked. Similar procedures have been authorized in France, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the United Kingdom concerning the same case. The Minister adds that refugee status does not provide immunity to a person guilty of an offence.
However, members of Parliament recalled that Kazakhstan was known for its authoritarian regime, the harassment of its political opponents, its endemic corruption at the highest levels of the country and the lack of independence of its judicial system.
On October 7th, lawyer Ronit Knaller filed a criminal complaint on behalf of Jardemalie for unauthorized access to a computer system, theft of electronic data, invasion of privacy and other offences.
The Belgian State, which has accepted such cooperation with Kazakhstan, also judges spies at the same time. Indeed, two East German Stasi agents and a German pseudo-journalist were sentenced on November 29th 2019 to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 9,600 euros for criminal association, private corruption, harassment and violation of the Detectives Act against Ms Jardemalie. Their mission was to gather information on Mrs. Jardemalie, who at the time defended the interests of businessman Mukhtar Ablyazov, an opponent of the central Kazakh government.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office suspected that the three men had tried to take her by force to Kazakhstan. The Belgian State has already refused two extradition requests from Kazakhstan against Botagoz Jardemalie.
Find the Open Dialogue press release concerning Mrs Botagoz Jardemalie here.
You can find the minutes of the Commission of Justice of 6 November 2019 here (in French).
The OIAD wishes to express its deep concern about the harassment of lawyer Botagoz Jardemalie. OIAD is concerned for his safety and that of his family.
The OIAD requests the Belgian authorities to cease all transmission of confidential documents, in particular those covered by professional secrecy, to the Kazakh authorities in view of the high risk of serious repercussions on the safety of the persons concerned.
The OIAD joins the CCBE in reminding the Belgian and Kazakh authorities of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, according to which “governments must ensure that lawyers (…) are able to perform all their professional functions without intimidation, obstruction, harassment or undue interference” (Principle 17).