Human rights lawyer & defender from Kazakhstan, political refugee in Belgium
Bota Jardemalie, Bota Jardemalie, a Harvard Law graduate, is a licensed attorney in the State of New York and a human rights defender from Kazakhstan. For years, she had defended the Kazakh opposition, political activists, human rights defenders and victims of torture, advocates for human rights, democracy, and the fight against corruption. In 2013, Bota Jardemalie was granted political asylum in Belgium due to the extraordinary risks she faced in the form of reprisals by Kazakhstan against her for her legal work against the regime.
Testimonial of Bota Jardemalie (Kazakhstan, political asylum in Belgium):
I have been persecuted by my country Kazakhstan for years for my legal work in support of political victims of the Kazakhstan regime. I provided counsel and support to members of the democratic opposition, political activists and independent media of Kazakhstan.
Despite my political asylum, I remained in danger even in Belgium. At Kazakhstan’s request, in 2013 INTERPOL published a Red Notice to arrest me on fabricated charges of alleged embezzlement of BTA Bank in Kazakhstan. Later INTERPOL cancelled this Red Notice for non-compliance with the rules against political abuses of INTERPOL. Kazakhstan’s regime twice tried to extradite me from Belgium unsuccessfully. Belgium refused those extradition requests.
Kazakhstan has been trying very hard to stop me from doing my work. In late 2014, I received a credible threat that I was in danger and, I quote, “the Kazakhs hired people to either kidnap you or turn you into a vegetable.” The Belgian federal police launched an investigation of a criminal conspiracy targeting me. Three individuals, two former agents of the STASI (the East German secret police) and a Russian national, came under scrutiny by the Belgian federal police for criminal conspiracy, forgeries and use of forged documents, use of false identity, and impersonation of agents of public authority, all of these alleged crimes committed in order to locate and/or to kidnap me. On 29 November 2019 those individuals were sentenced by the Brussels Criminal Court.
After their attempts at extraditing me and physically harassing me failed, in 2016, a proxy for the Kazakhstani regime, BTA Bank, filed a criminal complaint against me in Belgium, accusing me of money laundering on Belgium soil. The Federal prosecutor dismissed (non-lieu) the case (“Il n’existe aucune charge contre Botagoz Jardemalie”). However, Kazakhstan’s agent, backed by the unlimited resources of an oil-rich state, persisted in appealing the decisions of the Instruction Judge and the Federal Prosecutor, continuously demanding further investigative steps to be taken against me. It took six years of relentless legal harassment by Kazakhstan’s proxy until April 25, 2023, when the Chamber du Conseil of the Tribunal of the First Instance of Brussels completely dismissed the criminal investigation against me. The Tribunal also ordered BTA Bank to compensate me with €15,000 in procedural compensation and an additional €5,000 ex aequo et bono, as recompense for the temerarious and vexatious procedure. This case serves as a clear example of the abuse of AML regulations and illustrates a form of SLAPP—Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, another tool of transnational repression.
Using allegations in money laundering as a pretext, Kazakhstan made at least three mutual legal (MLA) assistance requests to Belgium to receive all my banking information, all my electronic devices, and my professional legal files. These requests have been some “fishing expedition” – attempts to obtain my professional files as lawyer and human rights defender. Two Belgian banks provided behind my back all my banking information, including account transactions and my personal identification, to the regime that persecuted me for years, without my knowledge or consent.
As a result, the regime tried to use this information to track my movements, monitor my financial activity, and wanted to use it as evidence against me in a fabricated criminal case. This personal information was shared without my knowledge or consent, putting me in danger and compromising my rights as a political refugee.
In April 2018 the Minister of Justice of Belgium accepted one of the mutual legal assistance requests filed by Kazakhstan, without carrying out proper verification required under the law, failing to protect a refugee and to respect the rights of a lawyer and the legal profession. At the request of the Kazakh authorities, on 1 October 2019, the Belgian police, accompanied by two unidentified Kazakh officers, searched my Brussels apartment. My professional documents and computer equipment were seized. At the time of the execution of this MLA request, no judicial remedy in Belgium was available to me to enable me to protect my fundamental rights and prevent further violation of those, who I was helping, including Kazakh political activists, journalists and victims of torture. However, on 13 January 2022, the Constitutional Court of Belgium in its judgement 1/2022 upheld my position, ruling that, despite the absence of a right explicitly provided for by the law, the remedy should exist for someone in my position when the request for mutual legal assistance comes from a non-EU Member state, and it was necessary to provide me a right of appeal in Belgium in order to be able to challenge the legitimacy of the mutual assistance in criminal matters requested by Kazakhstan. (Constitutional Court, judgement 1/2022)
In parallel, for years, I have been a target of a very aggressive smear PR campaign in 5 languages online, sponsored by the Kazakh regime. As a result of negative PR, I started experiencing problems with banking: banks in Belgium closed my bank accounts without any explanation and refused to open her a bank account. I also was blocked from making a Western Union transfers.
Having been unsuccessful in neutralising me as a lawyer and human rights defender whether by having me arrested, extradited or kidnapped, in November 2017, Kazakhstan arrested my older brother, Iskander Yerimbetov, who still lived in Kazakhstan. He was arrested based on false allegations in money laundering of funds allegedly stolen from BTA Bank. His arrest was therefore both a reprisal against me for my work, and a means of pressuring me to cease advising victims of the regime. When arrested, officers of the Secret service of Kazakhstan demanded that my brother persuade me, his younger sister, to return to Kazakhstan. My brother refused to cooperate. He was severely tortured , and sentenced for 7 years. His case was recognized as politically motivated by international institutions and organisations that demanded his immediate release. ,,, On 7 December 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UN WGAD) concluded that my brother was detained in violation of international law and urged his immediate and unconditional release. My brother was released in December 2019. In 2020, he and his family received humanitarian visas from Switzerland, and in 2021, they were granted political asylum in Switzerland.
My case illustrates the abuse of AML laws as well as international cooperation mechanisms and banking information by authoritarian regimes to persecute individuals who stand up against them. It is a clear example of how far such regimes will go even in the EU to silence their critics. I believe that this case serves as a reminder that we must remain vigilant in protecting the rights of refugees and defending against the misuse of international legal instruments.