On November 8 this year, I made a permanent move from my home town of Taraz in southern Kazakstan to the city of Almaty. I had to relocate because I was in real danger from the local security forces, who were angry about me using my Facebook page to publicise details of their harassment of me.
This followed a mounting campaign of pressure and intimidation which led me to stop practicing journalism in May, leaving me without any source of earnings.
My move to Almaty was assisted by the Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund, a coalition of international organisations that provides emergency funding for those at risk. I am grateful for that, and also for an interim grant I received over the summer from the Rory Peck Trust while my relocation was being sorted out.
Working as an independent journalism is a high-risk business in Kazakstan, which comes 185th out of 199 on media watchdog Freedom House’s press freedom ranking. The situation is getting worse rather than improving.
Police in Taraz have repeatedly tried to detain me on fabricated charges unrelated to journalism, and to blacken my name in the process.
In August 2014, for example, police swooped on me in a public park in Taraz, accused me of disorderly behaviour and forcibly took me to a drug testing unit. Tests for both narcotics and alcohol turned up negative, but their intention was clear.
After a period in which I was frequently harassed by strangers, police made an attempt to commit me to a psychiatric hospital in November 2014. Psychiatric medicine was commonly used to isolate, punish and drug dissidents in the Soviet period. Two decades on, this form of abuse still exists in Kazakstan.
This was averted by the prompt intervention of human rights defenders like Rozlana Taukina, Yevgeny Zhovtis, Andrei Grishin, Anara Ibraeva, Alexander Danchev, Mahambet Abjan, and IWPR’s Alexandra Kazakova. Aynur Kurmanov and Serik Medetbekov, both now based abroad, also intervened on my behalf.
Police continued to follow me, making no secret of the fact. This May, they detained me and drove me to a psychiatric hospital against my will. On the way there, I overheard a man in plain clothes who was clearly in charge talking to the police and medics in the van. They agreed that I would be entered in the records as a “voluntary admission” – the only case in which a court order is not required.
Fortunately, I was able to phone people in Almaty, and they turn contacted a local human rights defender who rushed to the hospital and successfully demanded my immediate release.
The harassment continued. In July, police in Taraz attempted to seize my mobile phone, most likely to stop me calling for assistance if they detained me again.
Once again, I am grateful to the human rights groups and individuals who have intervened and supported me. I am proud to call myself a member of the large and friendly family that is IWPR, and to do my bit to spread the word about the supremacy of the law, about defending human rights, and about the ideal of freedom of expression as an ideal.