Kazakhstan: Attacks and harassment against Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva

Urgent Appeal

KAZ 002 / 0621 / OBS 065
Attack/ Arbitrary detention /
June 8, 2021

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your intervention in the following situation in Kazakhstan.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the attack, arbitrary arrest and subsequent release of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights defenders Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva, members of the Feminita Initiative [1] in Kazakhstan.

On May 29, 2021, Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva had to deliver a speech at a private meeting at 16:00 on women’s rights organised by Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative ‘Feminita’ in the city of Shymkent. Previously, the organisers had rented and paid a room in the coworking center ‘Birlik’. However, on the same day, the administration of ‘Birlik’ called Ms. Sekerbayeva in order to cancel the event. Mses. Serzhan and Sekerbayeva then decided to hold the meeting at the City Hotel Shymkent.

At 15:30, while Zhanar Sekerbayeva and Gulzada Serzhan were at a café nearby the hotel, three unknown men approached them. One of the individuals identified himself as a criminal police officer. They informed the two defenders that some aggressive men were protesting at a street nearby against LGBT-prides and same-sex marriages. These topics were never the themes of ‘Feminita’ meetings. The three men insisted on cancelling the meeting because of this protest. Mses. Serzhan and Sekerbayeva asked the three men to guarantee their safety instead of denying their responsibility to protect them from any threats. Representatives of secret service went to the hall of City Hotel Shymkent and spoke to the manager, who announced five minutes before the start of the meeting that access to the conference room was denied by the hotel administration and hence the organisers decided to move the meeting to the café of the same hotel instead.

As the event’s location had been rendered public on social media, a crowd of unknown men, including police officers, hadgathered in front of the private premises in order to protest against the meeting. They verbally and physically attacked and threatened the two human rights defenders. Zhanar Sekerbayeva was dragged by her hair and punched in her face. The police brutally arrested the two human rights defenders and took them to the district police department of Abay district. In a statement, the police department affirmed that they took these measures “to ensure the safety of the organisers and participants of the meeting, in view of the threat to the lives of the meeting participants, especially its organisers".Following their arrest, Zhanar Sekerbayeva was informed that a criminal case would be initiated against her on charges of “insulting a state official” (Article 378 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan). However, according to both human rights defenders, the criminal investigation against Ms. Sekerbayeva has been stopped.

Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva were released on May 29, 2021 at midnight. The police have opened an investigation for “hooliganism” following a complaint filed by Ms. Sekerbayeva due to the attack by unknown men both defenders and some participants were subjected to. However, at the time of publication of this urgent appeal, no investigation has been opened against the police officers who attacked and brutally arrested Mses. Serzhan and Sekerbayeva.

The Observatory underlines that both human rights defenders had been receiving threats many days before of the incident, following the disclosure of the event online, and they are still threatened on social media and on their personal mobile phones, but nomeasures have been taken to ensure their security.

The Observatory condemns the attack and arbitrary arrest of Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva and expresses its utmost concern about the context of ongoing coordinated attacks and harassment against human rights defenders and organisations, the restrictions on freedom of association, and the obstruction of the work of human rights defenders and NGOs in Kazakhstan.

The Observatory urges the Kazakh authorities to carry out and immediate and transparent investigation into the attack, threats and arrest of Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva and take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical integrity and psychological well-being of all human rights defenders in the country, and particularly LGBTQ+ rights defenders.

The Observatory further calls on the authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of association as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the principle of independence of civil society guaranteed by the Kazakhstani Constitution.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in Kazakhstan, urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva and all human rights defenders in Kazakhstan;

ii. Put an end to all forms of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva and other human rights defenders in Kazakhstan and ensure their safety at all times;

iii. Carry out an immediate, thorough, transparent and independent investigation into the above-mentioned attack, threats and arrest of Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law;

iv. Ensure that the acts of violence committed by the police in Shymkent are effectively investigated by the designated state bodies, in particular by the special prosecutors and the anti-corruption agency.


· H.E. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kazakhstan,Twitter: @TokayevKZ
· Mr. Yerlan Turgumbayev, Minister of Internal Affairs, Email: Kense@mvd.kz
· Mr. Marat Beketayev, Minister of Justice, Email: kanc@adilet.gov.kz
· H.E.Ms. Zhanar Aitzhanova, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission@kazakhstan-geneva.ch
· H.E. Mr. Almaz Khamzayev, Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Brussels, Belgium, Email: kazakhstan.embassy@swing.be

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Kazakhstan located in your country.


Paris-Geneva, June 8, 2021

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
• Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39

Read more